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The Great Secret 

The Great Secret 


Translated by 




Copyright, 1922, by 






















DO not look to find in this volume a history 
of occultism, or a methodical monograph 
on the subject. To such a work one would 
need to devote whole volumes, which would of 
necessity be filled with a great measure of that 
very rubbish which I wish above all to spare the 
reader. I have no other aim than to tell as 
simply as possible what I have learned in the 
course of some years that were spent in these 
rather discredited and unfrequented regions. 

I bring thence the impressions of a candid 
traveler who has traversed them rather as one 
seeking to observe than as a believer. These 
pages contain, if you will, a kind of summary, a 
provisional stock-taking. I know nothing that 
may not be learned by the first comer who will 
travel the same road. I am not an initiate; 
I have sat at the feet of no mysterious and evan- 
escent masters, coming from the ends of the 


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earth, or from another world, expressly to re- 
veal to me the ultimate verities and to forbid 
me to repeat them. I have had no access to 
those secret libraries, to those hidden sources 
of the supreme wisdom which, it seems, are 
somewhere to be found but will always be for 
us as though they were not, since those who 
win through to them are condemned, on pain 
of death, to an inviolable silence. Neither 
have I deciphered any incomprehensible books 
of magic, nor found a new key to the sacred 
books of the great religions. I have but read 
and studied most of what has been written of 
these matters, and amidst an enormous mass of 
documents, absurd, puerile, tedious, and useless, 
I have given my attention to those works of 
outstanding value which are really able to teach 
us something that we do not find elsewhere. 
In thus clearing the approaches to an inquiry 
that is only too often encumbered by a weari- 
some amount of rubbish, I shall perhaps facil- 
itate the task of those who may wish, and be 
able, to go farther than I have traveled. 

Thanks to the labors of a science which 'is 
comparatively recent, and more especially to 
the researches of the students of Hindu and 
Egyptian antiquities, it is very much easier to- 
day than it was not so long ago to discover the 



source, to ascend the course and unravel the 
underground network of that great mysterious 
river which since the beginning of history has 
been flowing beneath all the religions, all the 
faiths, and all the philosophies: in a word, be- 
neath all the visible and every-day manifesta- 
tions of human thought. It is now hardly to 
be contested that this source is to be found in 
ancient India. Thence in all probability the 
sacred teaching spread into Egypt, found its 
way to ancient Persia and Chaldea, permeated 
the Hebrew race, and crept into Greece and the 
north of Europe, finally reaching China and 
even America, where the Aztec civilization was 
merely a more or less distorted reproduction 
of the Egyptian civilization. 

There are thus three great derivatives of 
primitive occultism, Arya-Hindu or Atlanto- 
Hindu : ( i ) the occultism of antiquity that 
is, the Egyptian, Persian, Chaldean, and He- 
brew occultism and that of the Greek myster- 
ies; (2) the Hebrew-Christian esoterism of the 
Essenes, the Gnostics, the Neoplatonists of 
Alexandria, and the cabalists of the middle 
ages; and (3) the modern occultism, which is 
more or less permeated by the foregoing, but 
which, under the somewhat inaccurate label of 
occultism, denotes more especially, in the lan- 
guage of the theosophists, the spiritualism and 
metapsychism of to-day. 


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As for the sources of the primary source, it 
is almost impossible to rediscover them. Here 
we have only the assertions of the occultist tra- 
dition, which seem, here and there, to be con- 
firmed by historical discoveries. This tradi- 
tion attributes the vast reservoir of wisdom 
that somewhere took shape simultaneously with 
the origin of man, or even if we are to credit 
it, before his advent upon this earth, to more 
spiritual entities, to beings less entangled in 
matter, to psychic organisms, of whom the last- 
comers, the Atlantides, could have been but the 
degenerate representatives. 

From the historical point of view we have 
absolutely no documents whatever if we go 
back a greater distance than five, or six, or 
perhaps seven thousand years. We cannot tell 
how the religion of the Hindus and Egyptians 
came into being. When we become aware of 
it we find it already complete in its broad out- 
lines, its main principles. Not only is it com- 
plete, but the farther back we go the more per- 
fect it is, the more unadulterated, the more 
closely related to the loftiest speculations of 
our modern agnosticism. It presupposes a pre- 
vious civilization, whose duration, in view of 
the slowness of all human evolution, it is quite 
impossible to estimate. The length of this 



period might in all probability be numbered by 
millions of years. It is here that the occultist 
tradition comes to our aid. Why should this 
tradition, a priori, be despised and rejected, 
when almost all that we know of these primi- 
tive religions is likewise founded on oral tradi- 
tion for the written texts are of much later 
date, and when, moreover, all that this tradi- 
tion teaches us displays a singular agreement 
with what we have learned elsewhere ? 


At all events, even if we have need of occult 
tradition to explain the origin of this wisdom, 
which to us, with good reason, has a savor of 
the superhuman, we can very well dispense with 
it in all that concerns the essential nature of 
this same wisdom. It is contained, in all its 
integrity, in authentic texts, to which we can 
assign a place in history; and in this connection 
the modern theosophists, who profess to have 
had at their disposal certain secret documents, 
and to have profited by the extraordinary reve- 
lations with which the adepts or Mahatmas, 
members of a mysterious brotherhood, are sup- 
posed to have favored them, have taught us 
nothing that may not be read in the writings 
accessible to any Orientalist. The factors 
which distinguish the occultists for example, 
the theosophists of Blavatski's school, which 


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dominates all the rest from the scientific In- 
dianists and Egyptologists are in nowise con- 
nected with the origin, the plan, and the pur- 
pose of the universe, the destiny of the earth 
and of man, the nature of divinity, and the 
great problems of ethics; they are, almost ex- 
clusively, problems touching the prehistoric 
ages, the nomenclature of the emanations of 
the unknowable, and the methods of subdu- 
ing and utilizing the unknown energies of na- 

Let us first of all consider the points upon 
which they are agreed; which are, for that mat- 
ter, the most interesting, for all that deals with 
the prehistoric era is of necessity hypothetical 
and the names and functions of the interme- 
diary gods possess only a secondary interest; 
while as for the utilization of unknown forces, 
this is rather the concern of the metapsychical 
sciences to which we shall refer in a later 


"What we read in the 'Vedas,' " says Ru- 
dolph Steiner, one of the most scholarly and, at 
the same time, one of the most baffling of con- 
temporary occultists; "What we read in the 
'Vedas,' those archives of Hindu wisdom, gives 
us only a faint idea of the sublime doctrines 
of the ancient teachers, and even so these are 



not in their original form. Only the gaze of 
the clairvoyant, directed upon the mysteries of 
the past, may reveal the unuttered wisdom 
which lies hidden behind these writings." 

Historically it is highly probable that Steiner 
is right. As a matter of fact, as I have al- 
ready stated, the more ancient the texts, the 
purer, the more awe-inspiring are the doctrines 
which they reveal; and it is possible that they 
themselves are, in Steiner's words, merely an 
enfeebled echo of sublimer doctrines. But if 
we are not gifted with the vision of a seer we 
must be content with what we have before our 

The texts which we possess are the sacred 
books of India, which corroborate those of 
Egypt and of Persia. The influence which 
they have exerted upon human thought, if not 
in their present form, at least by means of the 
oral tradition which they have merely placed 
on record, goes back to the beginnings of his- 
tory, has extended itself in all directions, and 
has never ceased to make itself felt, but as 
regards the Western world their discovery and 
methodical study are comparatively recent. 
"Fifty years ago," wrote Max Miiller in 1875, 
"there was not a scholar in existence who could 
translate a line of the 'Veda,' the 'Zend- 
Avesta,' or the Buddhist 'Tripitaka,' to say 
nothing of other dialects or languages." 


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If the historical data were to assume from 
the outset in the annals of mankind the signifi- 
cance which they were afterward to acquire, 
the discovery of these sacred books would prob- 
ably have turned all Europe upside down; for 
it was, without a doubt, the most important 
event which had occurred since the advent of 
Christianity. But a moral or spiritual event 
very rarely propagates itself quickly through 
the masses. It is opposed by too many forces 
which would gain by its suppression. This 
particular event remained confined to a small 
circle of scholars and philologists, and affected 
the meta-physician and the moral philosopher 
even less than might have been expected. It is 
still awaiting the hour of its full expansion. 

The first question to present itself is that 
of the date of these texts. It is very diffi- 
cult to answer this question exactly; for 
while it is comparatively easy to determine the 
period when these books were written it is im- 
possible to estimate the time during which they 
existed only in the memory of man. Accord- 
ing to Max Miiller there is hardly a Sanskrit 
manuscript in existence that dates farther back 
than 1000 A. D., and everything seems to show 
that writing was unknown in India until the 
beginning of the Buddhist era (the fifth cen- 



tury B. c.) ; that is until the close of the period 
of the ancient Vedic literature. 

The "Rig- Veda," which contains 1028 hymns 
of an average length of ten lines, or a total of 
153,826 words, was therefore preserved by the 
effort of the memory alone. Even to-day the 
Brahmans all know the "Rig-Veda" by heart, 
as did their ancestors three thousand years ago. 
We must attribute the spontaneous development 
of Vedic thought, as we find it in the "Rig- 
Veda," to a period earlier than the tenth cen- 
tury B. C. Three centuries before the Chris- 
tian era once more, according to Max Mu'ller 
Sanskrit had already ceased to be spoken by 
the people. This is proved by an inscription 
whose language is to Sanskrit what Italian is 
to Latin. 

But according to other Orientalists the age 
of the "Chandas" probably goes back to a pe- 
riod two or three thousand years before Christ. 
This takes us back five thousand years : a very 
modest and prudent claim. "One thing is cer- 
tain," says Max Miiller, "namely, that there is 
nothing more ancient, nothing more primitive, 
than the hymns of the 'Rig-Veda,' whether in 
India or the whole Aryan world. Being 
Aryan in language and thought, the 'Rig- Veda' 
is the most ancient of our sacred books." 1 

Since the works of the great Orientalist were 

1 Max Muller, "Origin and Development of Religion." 

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written other scholars have set back the date 
of the earliest manuscripts, and above all of the 
earliest traditions, to a remarkable extent; but 
even so these dates fall short by a stupendous 
amount of the Brahman calculations, which 
refer the origin of their earliest books to thou- 
sands of centuries before our era. "It is actu- 
ally more than five thousand years," says 
Swami Dayanound Saraswati, "since the 'Vedas' 
have ceased to be a subject of investigation"; 
and according to the computations of the Ori- 
entalist Hailed, the "Shastras," in the chronol- 
ogy of the Brahmans, must be no less than seven 
million years old. 

Without taking sides in these disputes the 
only point which it is important to establish is 
the fact that these books, or rather the tradi- 
tions which they have recorded and rendered 
permanent, are evidently anterior with the 
possible exceptions of Egypt, China, and 
Chaldea to anything known of human history. 


This literature comprises, in the first place, 
the four "Vedas" : the "Rig-Veda," the "Sama- 
Veda," the "Yadjour-Veda," and the "Atharva- 
Veda," completed by the commentaries, or 
"Brahmanas," and the philosophical treatises 
known as "Aranyakas" and "Upanishads," to 
which we must add the "Shastras," of which 



the best known is the "Manava-Dharma- 
Shastra," or "Laws of Manu" which, accord- 
ing to William Jones, Chezy, and Loiseleur- 
Deslongchamps, date back to the thirteenth cen- 
tury before Christ and the first "Puranas." 

Of these texts the "Rig- Veda" is incontest- 
ably the most ancient. The rest are spread 
over a period of many hundreds, perhaps even 
of many thousands, of years; but all, excepting 
the latest "Puranas," belong to the pre-Chris- 
tian era, a fact which we must always keep in 
view; not because of any feeling of hostility 
toward the great religion of the West, but in 
order to give the latter its proper place in the 
history and evolution of human thought. 

The "Rig-Veda" is still polytheist rather 
than pantheist, and it is only here and there 
that the peaks of the doctrine emerge from it, 
as, for example, in the stanzas which we shall 
presently quote. Its divinities represent only 
those amplifical physical forces which the 
"Sama-Veda," and above all the "Brahmanas" 
subsequently reduce to metaphysical concep- 
tions, and to unity. 

The "Sama-Veda" asserts the unknowable 
and the "Yadjur-Veda" pantheism. As for 
the "Atharva," according to some the oldest, 
and according to others the most recent, it 
consists above all of ritual. 

These ideas were developed by the commen- 

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taries of the "Brahmanas," which were pro- 
duced more especially between the twelfth and 
seventh centuries before Christ; but they may 
probably be referred to traditions of much 
greater antiquity, which our modern theoso- 
phists claim to have rediscovered, though with- 
out supporting their assertions by sufficient 

Consequently, when we speak of the religion 
of India we must consider it in its entirety, from 
the primitive Vedism by way of Brahmanism 
and Krishnaism, to Buddhism, calling a halt, 
should the student so prefer, some two or three 
centuries before our Christian era, in order to 
avoid all suspicion of Judo-Christian infiltra- 

All this literature to which may be added, 
among many others, the semi-profane texts of 
the "Ramayana" and the "Mahabarata," in the 
midst of which blossoms the "Bhagavata-Gita," 
or "Song of the Blessed," that magnificent 
flower of Hindu mysticism is still very imper- 
fectly known, and we possess of it only so much 
as the Brahmans have chosen to give us. 

This literature confronts us with a host of 
problems of extreme complexity, of which very 
few have as yet been solved. It may be added 
that the translation of the Sanskrit texts, and 
especially of the more ancient, are still very 
unreliable. According to Roth, the true pio- 


neer of Vedic exegesis, "the translator who 
will render the 'Veda' intelligible and readable, 
mutatis mutandis, as Homer has been since the 
labors of Voss, has yet to appear, and we can 
hardly anticipate his advent before the coming 

In order to form some idea of the uncertain 
character of these translations, it is enough to 
turn, for an example, to the end of the third 
volume of the Religion Fedique of Bergaigne, 
the great French Orientalist. Here we shall 
find the disputes which arose between the most 
famous Indianists, such as Grassmann Ludwig, 
Roth and Bergaigne himself, as to the inter- 
pretation of almost all the essential words of 
the "Hymn to the Dawn" (I, 123). As Ber- 
gaigne says, "It exposes the poverty of the 
present interpretation of the 'Rig-Veda.' " * 

The neotheosophists have endeavored to 
solve certain of the problems propounded by 
Hindu antiquity; but their works, though highly 
interesting as regards their doctrine, are ex- 
tremely weak from a critical point of view; and 
it is impossible to follow them on paths where 
we meet with nothing but hypotheses incapable 
of proof. The truth is that in dealing with 
India we must abandon all hope of chronolog- 
ical accuracy. Contenting ourselves with a 

1 La Religion Vedique d'apres les Hymnes du Rig-Veda, A. 
Bergaigne; Vol. III. p. 283 et seq. 


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minimum of certainty, which undoubtedly falls 
far short of reality, and leaving behind us a 
possibly stupendous waste of nebulous centuries, 
we will refer only to the three or four thousand 
years that saw the birth and growth of the 
"Brahmanas"; when we find that there existed 
at that period among the foot-hills of the Him- 
alayas, a great religion, pantheist and agnostic, 
which later became esoteric; and this, for the 
moment, is all that concerns us. 


And what of Egypt? some will say. What 
of her monuments and her hieroglyphics ? Are 
they not much more ancient? Let us listen in 
this connection to the learned Egyptologist Le 
Page Renouf, 1 one of the great authorities on 
this subject. He holds that the Egyptian mon- 
uments and their inscriptions cannot serve as 
a basis for establishing definite dates; that the 
calculations based on the heliacal rising of the 
stars are not convincing, as in the texts it is 
probable that the transit of the stars is referred 
to rather than their rising. He is, however, 
convinced that according to the most moderate 
calculations the Egyptian monarchy was al- 
ready in existence more than two thousand 
years before the Book of Exodus was written. 

1 "Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as 
Illustrated by the Religion of Ancient Egypt," by P. Le Page 



Now Exodus probably dates from the year 1310 
B. c., and the date of the Great Pyramid can- 
not be fixed at less than 3000 or 4000 years be 
fore our era. These calculations, like those 
which make the Chinese era begin 2697 years 
before Christ, lead us back strangely enough, 
to the period assigned by the students of Indian 
history to the development of the Vedic ideal; 
a development which presupposes a period of 
gestation and formation infinitely more remote. 
For the rest, they do not deny that the Egyp- 
tian civilization, like the Hindu civilization, 
may be very much more ancient. Another 
great Egyptologist, Leonard Homer, between 
the years 1851 and 1854, had ninety-five shafts 
sunk in various parts of the Nile Valley. It 
is established that the Nile increases the depth 
of its alluvial bed by five inches in a century 
a depth which owing to compression should be 
less for the lower strata. Human and animal 
figures carved in granite, mosaics, and vases, 
were found at depths of seventy-five feet or 
less, and fragments of brick and pottery at 
greater depths. This takes us back some 
17,000 or 18,000 years. At a depth of thirty- 
three feet six inches a tablet was unearthed,, 
bearing inscriptions which a simple calculation 
shows to have been nearly 8000 years old. 
The theory that the excavators may have hit, 
Iiy chance, upon wells or cisterns must be aban- 


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doned, for the same state of affairs was proved 
to exist everywhere. These proofs, it may be 
remarked, furnish yet one more argument in 
support of the occultist traditions as regards the 
antiquity of human civilization. This prodi- 
gious antiquity is also confirmed by the astro- 
nomical observations of the ancients. There is, 
for example, a catalogue of stars known as the 
catalogue of Surya-Siddhanta; and the differ- 
ences in the position of eight of these fixed 
stars, taken at random, show that the Surya- 
Siddhanta were made more than 58,000 years 


Was Egypt or India the direct legatee of 
the legendary wisdom bequeathed by more 
ancient peoples, and notably by the probable 
Atlantides? In the present state of our knowl- 
edge, without relying upon occultist traditions, 
it is not yet possible to reply. 

Less than a century ago virtually nothing 
was known of ancient Egypt. The little that 
was known was based upon hearsay and the 
more or less fantastic legends collected by later 
historians, and above all on the divagations of 
the philosophers and theurgists of the Alexan- 
drian period. It was only in 1820 that Jean- 
Frangois Champollion, thanks to the threefold 
text of the famous Rosetta Stone, found the 



key to the mysterious writing that covers all the 
monuments, all the tombs, and almost every ob- 
ject of the land of the Pharaohs. But the 
working out of the discovery was a long and 
difficult business, and it was almost forty years 
later that one of Champollion's most illustrious 
successors, de Rouge, was able to say that there 
was no longer any Egyptian text that could not 
be translated. Innumerable documents were 
deciphered and as regards the material sense 
of most of the inscriptions an all but absolute 
certainty was attained. 

Nevertheless it seems more and more prob- 
able that beneath the literal meaning of the re- 
ligious inscriptions another and an impene- 
trable meaning is concealed. This is the 
hypothesis toward which the most objective and 
most scientific Egyptologists have inevitably 
tended, in view of the antiquity of many of 
the words employed, although they immediately 
add that it cannot be definitely confirmed. It 
is therefore highly probable that beneath the 
official religion taught to the vulgar, there was 
another reserved for the priests and the initiate, 
and here the theory which the scholars are com- 
pelled to entertain once more confirms the asser- 
tions of the occultists, and notably those of the 
Neoplatonists of Alexandria, as regards the 
Egyptian mysteries. 

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However this may be, there are texts as to 
whose authenticity there is not the slightest 
doubt the "Book of the Dead," the "Books of 
Hymns," and Ptahhoteph's "Collection of 
Moral Sentences" the most ancient book in 
the world, since it is contemporary with the pyr- 
amids and many more, which enable us to 
form a very exact idea of the (at first) lofty 
morality, and above all of the fundamental 
theosophy of Egypt, before this theosophy was 
corrupted to satisfy the common people and 
transformed into a monstrous polytheism, 
which, for that matter, was always more ap- 
parent than real. 

Now the older these texts the more closely 
does their teaching approximate to the Hindu 
tradition. Whether they are in fact earlier or 
later than the latter is after all a question of 
secondary importance; what interests us more 
deeply is the problem of their common origin, 
a sole and immemorial origin whose probabil- 
ity increases with every step adventured into 
the prehistoric ages. 

The farther back we go the more plainly is 
this agreement upon the essential points re- 
vealed. For example the ideal which the Egyp- 
tian religion, in its beginnings, conceived of 
God. We shall find a little farther on the 



Hindu original or replica, just as we shall have 
occasion to compare the two theogonies, the 
two cosmogonies, the two systems of ethics, 
which are evidently the sources of all the theo- 
gonies, all the cosmogonies, and all the ethical 
systems of humanity. 

For the Egyptian who has preserved the 
faith of the earliest days there is only one sole 
God. "There is none other God than He." 
"He is the sole living Being in substance and in 
truth." "Thou art alone and millions of liv- 
ing beings proceed from Thee." "He hath 
created all things, and He alone is uncreated." 
"In all times and places, He is the sole sub- 
stance and is unapproachable." "He is One, 
the only One." "He is yesterday, to-day, and 
to-morrow." "He is God by God created, 
existing of Himself the twofold Being, self- 
begotten, the Begetter of all since the begin- 

"It is more than five thousand years," says 
de Rouge, "since men first sang in the valley of 
the Nile the hymn to the unity of God and the 
immortality of the soul. ... In this belief in 
the unity of the Supreme God and His attri- 
butes as Creator of and Lawgiver to Man, 
whom he endowed with an immortal soul, we 
have the primitive conceptions, encrusted like 
indestructible diamonds in the mythological 


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superfetations accumulated by the centuries 
which have passed over this ancient civili- 
zation." 1 

It is true that we have not here, in this def- 
inition of the Deity, the penetration and sub- 
tlety, the metaphysical spaciousness, the hap- 
piness of expression, the verbal magnificence 
in a word, the genius, which we shall find in 
the Hindu definitions. The Egyptian temper- 
ament is colder, drier, more sober, less grace- 
ful, more realistic; it has a more concrete im- 
agination, which is not fired by the inaccessible, 
the infinite, as is the spirit of the Asiatic 
peoples. Moreover, we must not lose sight 
of the fact that we are not yet acquainted with 
the secret meaning which may lie hidden be- 
neath these definitions. But at all events, as 
we understand them, the idea expressed is the 
same, denoting a single origin which, in con- 
formity with esoteric tradition and pending 
further enlightenment, we may call the Atlan- 
tean idea. This supposition, incidentally, is 
confirmed by the famous passage in Timaeus, 
according to which, as is stated by the Egyp- 
tian priest speaking to Solon, Egypt twelve 
thousand years ago, had an Atlantean col- 

1 De Rouge, Annales de la Philosophic Chrttienne; Vol. 
XX, p. 327. 




As for Mazdeism or Zoroastrianism, the 
third of the great religions, the problem of its 
derivation is a simpler one, although that of its 
chronology is equally complicated. Zoroaster, 
or rather one of the Zoroasters the last of 
them, lived, according to Aristotle, in the 
seventh century before Christ. Pliny places 
him a thousand years before Moses, and Her- 
mippus of Smyrna, who translated his works 
into Greek, four thousand years before the 
fall of Troy, and Eudoxius six thousand years 
before the death of Plato. 

Modern science, as Edouard Schure has dem- 
onstrated, deriving his proofs from the schol- 
arly research of Eugene Burnouf, Spiegel, 
James Darmesteter, and Harlez, declares that 
it is not possible to determine the period of 
the great Iranian philosopher who wrote the 
"Zend-Avesta"; but in any case he places him 
2500 years B. c. Max Miiller, on the other 
hand, gives us proof that Zoroaster, or Zara- 
thustra, and his disciples lived in India. "Some 
of the Zoroastrian gods," he says, "are only re- 
flections, distortions, of the primitive and au- 
thentic gods of the 'Vedas.' * 

Here, then, there is not the slightest doubt 
as to the priority of the Hindu books, and 


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here at the same time is yet another confirma- 
tion of the fabulous antiquity of these books 
or traditions. 

These preliminary observations, which would 
require volumes for their exposition, arc 
enough and for the moment it is this that 
concerns us to prove that the teaching which 
we find, in the after ages, at the bottom of all 
the religions, in the shape of mysteries, initia- 
tions, and secret doctrines, dates, according to 
the most cautious calculations, from thousands 
of years ago. They will suffice, at all events, 
to dispel the somewhat puerile argument of 
those who maintain that it is comparatively 
recent and has been influenced by the Judo- 
Christian revelations. This argument is no 
longer seriously maintained, but there are those 
who evade the difficulty by saying: Yes, there 
are truths in this primitive religion, and even 
texts which can be more or less definitely dated, 
antecedent to Moses and to Christ; but who can 
sift from these the successive interpolations 
which have transformed them? 

There are in India, it appears, more than 
twelve hundred texts of the "Vedas" and more 
than 350 of the "Laws of Manu," to say noth- 
ing of those of the sacred books which the 
Brahmans have not surrendered to us; and it 
cannot be denied that there are obvious inter- 
polations in these texts and in the doctrines 



which they contain. We must never lose sight 
of the fact that the Oriental religion which is 
commonly and most improperly known as Bud- 
dhism falls into three great periods, which 
correspond pretty closely with the three periods 
into which Christianity might be divided; 
namely, Vedism, or the primitive religion, which 
the Brahmans commented upon, complicating it 
and corrupting it to their own advantage, until 
it became the Brahmanism which Siddhartha 
Gautama Buddha, or Sakyamuni, revolted 
against and reformed in the fifth century 
B. C. 

The Indianists, thanks above all to the his- 
torical landmarks afforded them by the caste 
system, and the changes of language and of 
meter, have learned to distinguish easily enough 
these three currents in the suspect texts, and 
beneath the luxuriance and complications of the 
interpolations the broad outlines and essential 
truths which are all that matter to us are 
always visible. 



LET us first of all consider the conception 
of Deity which was formed by these an- 
cestors, simultaneously with the Egyptians, or, 
as is much more probable, before them. Their 
traditions may lay claim to at least five or six 
thousand years, and they themselves received 
these traditions from peoples who to-day have 
disappeared, their last trace in the memory of 
man dating back, according to Timaeus and the 
"Critias" of Plato, one hundred and twenty 

I must a'pologize to the reader for the inex- 
tricable nomenclature of Oriental mythology 
and the multiplicity of those anthropomorphic 
divinities whom the priests of India, like those 
of Egypt and of Persia, and indeed of all 
times and countries, were compelled to create 
in order to satisfy the demands of popular 
idolatry. I shall also spare him the ostenta- 
tion of a facile scholarship, lavish of unpro- 
nounceable names, in order at once to proceed 
to and consider only the essential conception of 
the First Cause, as we find it in the remotest 



sources, which, if not withheld from the com- 
mon people, ceased gradually to be under- 
stood by them, until it became the Great Se- 
cret of the elect among the priests and initi- 

Let us at once give ear to the "Rig-Veda," 
the most authentic echo of the most immemo- 
rial traditions; let us note how it approaches 
the formidable problem: 

"There was neither Being nor non-Being. 
There was neither atmosphere nor heavens 
above the atmosphere. What moved and 
whither? And in whose care? Were there 
waters, and the bottomless deep? 

"There was then neither death nor immor- 
tality. The day was not divided from the 
night. Only the One breathed, in Himself, 
without extraneous breath, and apart from Him 
there was nothing. 

"Then for the first time desire awoke within 
Him; this was the first seed of the Spirit. The 
sages, full of understanding, striving within 
their hearts, discovered in non-Being the link 
with Being. 

"Who knoweth and who can tell where crea- 
tion was born, whence it came, and whether 
the gods were not born afterwards? Who 
knoweth whence it hath come? 

"Whence this creation hath come, whether 
it be created or uncreated, He whose eye 


The Great Secret 

watches over it from the highest heaven, He 
alone knoweth: and yet doth He know?" * 

Is it possible to find, in our human annals, 
words more majestic, more full of solemn an- 
guish, more august in tone, more devout, more 
terrible? Where could we find at the very 
foundation of life, a completer and more ir- 
reducible confession of ignorance? Where, 
from the depths of our agnosticism, which 
thousands of years have augmented, can we 
point to a wider horizon? At the very outset 
it surpasses all that has been said, and goes far- 
ther than we shall ever dare to go, lest we fall 
into despair, for it does not fear to ask itself 
whether the Supreme Being knows what He 
has done knows whether He is or is not the 
Creator, and questions whether He has become 
conscious of Himself. 

Now let us hear the "Sama-Veda," confirming 
and elucidating this magnificent confession of 
ignorance : 

"If thou sayest, 'I have perfect knowledge of 
the Supreme Being,' thou deceivest thyself, for 
who shall number His attributes? If thou 
sayest, 'I think I know Him; I do not think I 
know Him perfectly, nor that I do not know 
Him at all ; but I know Him in part ; for he who 

i "Rig-Veda"; X, 129. 



knows all the manifestations of the gods who 
proceed from Him knows the Supreme Being' ; 
if thou sayest this, thou deceivest thyself, for 
not to be wholly ignorant of Him is not to 
know Him. 

"He, on the contrary, who believes that ha 
does not know Him, is he that does know Him; 
and he who believes that he knows Him is he 
that does not know Him. Those who know 
Him best regard Him as incomprehensible and 
those who know nothing at all of Him be- 
lieve that they know Him perfectly." 

To this fundamental agnosticism the "Yad- 
jur Veda" brings its absolute pantheism: 

"The sage fixes his eyes upon this mysterious 
Being in whom the universe perpetually ex- 
ists, for it has no other foundation. In Him 
this world is contained; it is from Him that 
this world has issued. He is entwined and en- 
woven in all created things, under all the va- 
ried forms of life. 

"This sole Being, to whom nothing can at- 
tain, is swifter than thought; and the gods 
themselves cannot comprehend this Supreme 
Mover who has preceded them all. He is 
remote from all things and close at hand. He 
fills the entire universe, yet infinitely surpasses 

"When man has learned to behold all crea- 
tures in this Supreme Spirit, and his Supreme 


The Great Secret 

Spirit in all His creatures, he can no longer" 
despise anything whatsoever. 

"Those who refuse to believe in the iden- 
tity of all created things have fallen into a pro- 
found darkness ; those who believe only in their 
individual selves have fallen into a much pro- 
founder darkness. 

"He who believes in the eternal identity of 
created beings wins immortality. 

"All creatures exist in this Supreme Spirit, 
and this Supreme Spirit exists in all creatures. 

"All creatures appear to Him as they have 
been from all eternity, always resembling 


Our ancestors did their best thoroughly to 
examine this tremendous confession of ignor- 
ance, to people this abysmal void, in which man 
could not draw breath; and sought to define 
this Supreme Being, whom a tradition more 
prehistoric than themselves had not ventured 
to conceive. No spectacle could be more ab- 
sorbing than this struggle of our forefathers of 
five to ten thousand years ago with the Un- 
knowable ; and in order to convey some idea of 
this struggle, I shall borrow their own voices, 
reproducing only the almost despairing terms 
by which they expressed themselves in the most 
ancient and authentic of their sacred books, 



which we must read without allowing ourselves 
to be alarmed by that incoherence of the Images 
employed which is, as Bergaigne remarks, the 
daily bread of Vedic poetry, 

God, they tell us, is Being. He is all things, 
existing and in Himself; unknowable, and the 
cause without a cause of all causes. He is 
infinitely ancient, infinitely unknown. He is all 
things and in all things, the eternal soul of all 
created beings, whom no one can comprehend. 
He is the unification of all material, intel- 
lectual, and moral forms of all existing be- 
ings. He is the sole primordial germ, undis- 
closed by all, the unknown deep, the uncreated 
substance of the unknown. "No, No, is His 
name" ; and all things waver perpetually be- 
tween "All things are" and "Nothing exists." 
"The sea alone knows the depths of the sea; 
space alone knows the extent of space; God 
alone can know God." He contains all things, 
yet is unknown to all; He is non-existent be- 
cause He is absolute Being that which is noth- 
ing while it is nevertheless all things. "He 
who is, yet is not, the eternal cause that is non- 
existent; the Undiscovered and the Undiscover- 
able, whom no created being can understand," 
says Manu. He is no definite thing; He is no 
known or visible being, nor can we bestow upon 
Him the name of any object. He is the secret 
of all secrets; He is It, the passive and latent 


The Great Secret 

element. The world is His name, His image; 
but it is only His former existence, which con- 
tains all things in itself, that is actually exist- 
ent. This universe is He; it comes from Him, 
it returns to Him. All the worlds are one 
with Him, for they exist only by His will; an 
everlasting will, inborn in all created things. 
This will is revealed in what we call the crea- 
tion, preservation, and destruction of the uni- 
verse; but there is no creation properly so- 
called, for, since all things have from all time 
existed in Him, creation is but an emanation 
of that which is in Him. This emanation, 
merely renders -visible to our eyes what was 
not visible. Similarly there is no such thing 
as destruction, this being but an inhalation of 
that which has been exhaled; and this inhala- 
tion, in its turn, does no more than render in- 
visible that which was aforetime seen; for all 
things are indestructible, being merely the sub- 
stance of the Supreme Being who Himself 
has neither beginning nor end, whether in space 
or in time. 


To have explored thus profoundly and com- 
prehensively, since what our ignorance calls 
the beginning, the infinite mystery of the un- 
knowable First Cause, must obviously presup- 
pose a civilization, an accumulation of ideas 



and meditations, an experience, a degree of 
contemplation and a perception of the universe, 
which are well calculated to amaze and hu- 
miliate us. We are now barely regaining the 
heights whence these ideas have come down 
to us ideas in which pantheism and mono- 
theism are confounded, forming only a single 
complex in the incommensurable Unknown. 
And who knows whether we could have recov- 
ered them without their aid? Less than a cen- 
tury ago we still knew nothing of these defini- 
tions in their original majesty and lucidity; 
but they had spread in all directions, and were 
floating like wreckage on the subterranean 
waters of all the religions, and above all on 
those of the official religion of Egypt, in which 
the Nu is as unknowable as the Hindu It, and 
in which, according to the occultist tradition, 
the supreme revelation at the close of the final 
initiation consisted of these terrible words, 
dropped casually into the ears of the adept: 
"Osirh is a dark god!" that is, a god who can- 
not be understood, who will never be under- 
stood. They were found, likewise, adrift in 
the Bible; or if not in the Vulgate, in which 
they become unrecognizable, at least in the ver- 
sions of the Hebraizers, such as Fabre d'Olivet, 
who have restored its actual meaning, or be- 
lieve themselves to have done so. Fitfully, too, 
they showed beneath the mysteries of Greece, 


The Great Secret 

which were merely a pale and distorted repro- 
duction of the Egyptian mysteries. They were 
visible, too, though nearer the surface, beneath 
the doctrines of the Essenes, who, according to 
Pliny, had lived for thousands of centuries by 
the shores of the Dead Sea : v Per saculorum 
millia," which is obviously exaggerated. They 
drifted through the cabala, the tradition of 
the ancient Hebrew initiates, who claimed to 
have preserved the oral law which God gave to 
Moses on Sinai and which, passing from mouth 
to mouth, were written down by the learned 
rabbis of the middle ages. They might be 
glimpsed behind the extraordinary doctrines 
and dreams of the Gnostics, the probable heirs 
of the undiscoverable Essenes; beneath the 
teachings of the Neoplatonists, and those of 
the early Christians; as in the darkness in which 
the unhappy medieval Hermetics lost their way, 
amid texts which bear the marks of an ever- 
increasing mutilation and corruption, following 
gleams of light that grew more and more per- 
ilous and uncertain. 


Here, then, is a great truth; the first of 
all truths, the fundamental truth, that lies at 
the root of things, to which we have now re- 
turned; the unknowable nature of the causeless 
cause of all causes. But of this cause, or this 



God, we should never have known anything had 
He remained self-absorbed, had He never mani- 
fested Himself. It was necessary that He 
should emerge from His inactivity, which for 
us was equivalent to nothingness, since the uni- 
verse seems to exist, and we ourselves believe 
that we live, in Him. Freed from the creeper- 
like entanglements of the theogonic and theo- 
logical theories that quickly invaded it on every 
hand, the First Cause, or rather the Eternal 
Cause for having no beginning it can be 
neither first nor second, has never created 
anything. There was no creation, since all 
has existed, within this Cause, from all eternity, 
in a form invisible to our eyes, but more real 
than it could be if they beheld it, since our eyes 
are so fashioned as to behold illusions only. 
From the point of view of this illusion, this all, 
that exists always, appears or disappears in ac- 
cordance with an eternal rhythm beaten out by 
the sleeping and waking of the Eternal Cause. 
"Thus it is," say the "Laws of Manu," "that by 
an alternation of awakening and repose the im- 
mutable Being causes all this assemblage of 
creatures, mobile and immobile, eternally to re- 
turn to life and to die." 1 He exhales himself, 
or expels his breath, and spirit descends into 
matter, which is only a visible form of spirit; 
and throughout the universe innumerable 

1 "Laws of Manu" ; I, 57. 


The Great Secret 

worlds are born, multiply and evolve. He him- 
self inhales, indrawing his breath, and matter 
enters into spirit, which is but an invisible form 
of matter: and the worlds disappear, without 
perishing, to reintegrate the Eternal Cause, and 
emerge once more upon the awakening of Brah- 
ma that is, thousands of millions of years 
later; to enter into Him again when He sleeps 
once more, after thousands of millions of years; 
and so it has been and ever shall be, through 
all eternity, without beginning, without cessa- 
tion, and without end. 

Here again we have a tremendous confession 
of ignorance; and this new confession, the old- 
est of all, however far back we go, is also the 
most profound, the most complete, and the 
most impressive. This explanation of the in- 
comprehensible universe, which explains noth- 
ing, since one cannot explain the inexplicable, is 
more acceptable than any other that we could 
offer, and is perhaps the only one that we could 
accept without stumbling at every step over 
insurmountable objections and questions to 
which our reason gives no reply. 

This second admission we find at the origin of 
the two mother-faiths. In Egypt, even in the 
superficial and exoteric Egypt which is all that 
we know, and without taking into account the 



secret meaning which probably underlies the 
hieroglyphs, it assumes a similar form. Here, 
too, there is no creation properly so called, but 
the externalization of a latent and everlasting 
spiritual principle. All beings and all things 
exist from all eternity in the Nu and return 
thither after death. The Nu is the "deep" of 
Genesis, a divine spirit hovers above it vaguely, 
bearing within it the total sum of future exist- 
ences; whence its name, Turn, whose meaning is 
at once Nothingness and Totality. When Turn 
wished to create within his heart all that exists, 
he rose up amid what things were present 
in the Nu, outside the Nu, and all lifeless 
things: and the sun, Ra, was, and there was 
light. But there were not three gods the 
deep, the spirit in the deep, and light without 
the deep. Turn, exteriorized by virtue of his 
creative desire, became Ra the sun-god, without 
ceasing to be Turn and without ceasing to be Nu. 
He says of himself: "I am Turn; I am that 
which existed alone in the abyss. I am the 
great God, self-created; that is, I am Nu, the 
father of the gods." He is the total sum of 
the lives of all created beings. And to express 
the idea that the demiurge has created all 
things of his own essence, the famous Leyden 
papyrus explains: "There was no other God 
before Him, nor any beside Him; when He 
decreed His likeness, there was no mother for 


The Great Secret 

Him, who was self-named [in Egyptian naming 
is equivalent to creating] : no father for Him 
who uttered this name, saying: 'It is I who 
have created thee.' " x 

In order to create, the Egyptian first thinks 
and then utters the world. (Here already is 
the "Word," the famous Logos of the Alex- 
andrian philosophers, which we shall encounter 
again later on.) His supreme intelligence as- 
sumes the name of Phtah; his heart, which is 
the spirit that moves him, is Horus, and the 
Word, the instrument of creation, is Thoth. 
Thus we have Phtah-Horus-Thoth ; the Creator 
Spirit-Word, the trinity in unity of Turn. Sub- 
sequently, as in the Vedic, Persian, and Chal- 
dean religions, the supreme and unknowable 
Deity was gradually relegated to oblivion, and 
we hear only of his innumerable emanations, 
whose names vary from century to century and 
occasionally from city to city. Thus, in the 
"Book of the Dead," Osiris, who becomes the 
best-known god of Egypt, states that he is Turn. 

In Mazdeism, or Zoroastrianism, which is 
merely an adaptation of Vedism to the Iranian 
temperament, the supreme Deity is not the om- 
nipotent Creator who could fashion the world 
as he desired; he is subject to the inflexible laws 
of the unknown First Cause, which is perhaps 

1 See A. Moret, Les Mysteres Egyptiens; pp. no ft seq.; 
and Pierret, Etudes Egyptologigues; p. 414. 



himself. In Chaldea, that crossroads where 
the religions of India, Egypt, and Persia meet, 
matter self-existent and still uncreated, gives 
birth to all things; not creating because all 
things have their being in it, but manifesting 
itself periodically, when its image is reflected 
in the world visible to our eyes. In the Cabala 
the last echo, the blurred copy of the esoteric 
doctrines of Chaldea and Egypt, we find the 
same confusion; the Eternal Spirit, increate and 
unknowable, not understood in its pure essence, 
contains in itself the principle of all that exists, 
manifesting itself and becoming visible to man 
only by its emanations. 

Lastly, if we open the Bible not its re- 
stricted, superficial, and empirical translation, 
but a version which goes to the heart -of the in- 
ner meaning, essential and radical, of the He- 
brew words such as that which Fabre d'Olivet 
attempted, we find, in the first verse of Gene- 
sis: "In the first beginning which is to say be- 
fore all, He, Elohim, God of Gods, the exist- 
ing Being, created which does not mean made 
something out of nothing, but drew from an un- 
known element, caused to pass from its princi- 
ple to its essence, the Very Self of the heavens 
and the Very Self of earth." 

"And the earth existed, a contingent power 
of being in the dominion of being, and the 
darkness (a compressive and indurating force) 


The Great Secret 

was over the face of the deep (the universal 
and contingent power of being) ; and the breath 
of the God of Gods (an expansive and dilating 
force) moved with generative power upon the 
face of the waters (universal passivity)." * 

Is it not interesting to note that this literal 
translation brings us very close to India, to the 
idea of the unknown origin, and closer still to 
the Hindu creation; the passing from princi- 
ple to essence, the expansion of the Being of 
Beings who contains all things, and^ of the ex- 
ternalization, upon his awakening, of the power 
that was latent within him during his sleep? 
Let us remember that in 1875 Max Miiller 
wrote, "Fifty years ago there was not a single 
scholar who could translate a line of the 
'Veda.' ' We must therefore believe, despite 
the assertion of the great Orientalist, either 
that Fabre d'Olivet was capable of translating 
it, or that he had divined the spirit of it in the' 
traditions of the cabala, which he could not 
have known save for the very incomplete and 
inaccurate Kabbala Denudata of Rosenroth; or 
else that the Hebrew text, if it really says what 
he makes it say, as everything seems to prove, 
reproduces the Hindu sources in a singular 
fashion, for his translation, the fruit of long 
previous labors, appeared in 1815; that is, ten 

1 Fabre d'Olivet, La Langue Lebraique restitute; Vol. II, 
pp. 25-27. 



or twenty years before any one had learned to 
read Sanskrit and the Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

Is it possible to-day, with all that we believe 
we know, or rather with all that we have at 
last realized that we do not know, to give a 
more comprehensive, more profoundly nega- 
tive idea of divinity than that conveyed by these 
religions at the beginnings of the human race, 
or one that corresponds more closely with the 
vast and hopeless ignorance which will always 
characterize our discussions as to the First 
Cause? Do we not find ourselves now at an 
enormous height above the more or less anthro- 
pomorphic gods that followed the supreme 
Unknowable of that religion which was the 
misappreciated mother of all the rest? Is it 
not to her nameless enigma that we are return- 
ing at long last, after all our protracted 
wanderings; after wasting so much energy and 
so many centuries, after committing so many 
errors, so many crimes, in seeking for her 
where she was not, far from the aboriginal 
summits on which she has awaited us for so 
many thousands and thousands of years? 


But this admission of ignorance had to be 
embellished and peopled; the fathomless gulf 


The Great Secret 

had to be filled; an abstraction which surpassed 
the bounds of understanding, with which man- 
kind could never be content, had to be quick- 
ened into life. And this all religions endea- 
vored to accomplish, beginning with that one 
which first made the venture. 

Once more I brush aside the brambles of the 
theogonies, simple at their origin but soon in- 
extricable, to follow the broad outlines. In 
the primitive religion, as we have already seen, 
the unknown Cause, at a given moment of the 
infinity of time, beginning once more what it 
has done from all eternity, awakes, divides it- 
self, becomes objective, is reflected in the uni- 
versal passivity, and becomes, until its approach- 
ing slumber, our visible universe. Of this un- 
known self-existent cause which divides itself 
into two parts, to render visible that which was 
latent in it, are born Brahma or Nara, the 
father, and Nari, the universal mother, of 
whom is born in his turn Viradj, the son, the 
universe. This primitive triad, assuming a 
more anthropomorphic form, becomes Brahma, 
the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, 
the destroyer and regenerator. In Egypt we 
have Nu, Turn, and Ra; then Phtah, Horus, 
and Thoth; who then became Osiris, Isis, and 

After these first subdivisions of the unknown 
Cause the primeval Pantheons are filled by the 



serried hosts of gods who are merely intermit- 
tent emanations, transitory representatives, 
ephemeral offshoots of the First Cause; person- 
ifications, more and more human, of its mani- 
festations, its purposes, its attributes or powers. 
We need not examine these here, but it is in- 
teresting to note, in passing, the profound 
truths which these immemorial cosmogonies 
and theogonies almost always discover, and 
which are gradually being confirmed by sci- 
ence. Was it, for example, mere chance that 
decreed that the earth should proceed from 
chaos, take shape and be covered with life pre- 
cisely in the order which they describe? Ac- 
cording to the "Laws of Manu" the ether en- 
genders the atmosphere ; the atmosphere, trans- 
forming itself, engenders light; the atmos- 
phere and light, giving rise to heat, produce 
water; and water is the mother of all living 
creatures. "When this world had emerged 
from the darkness," says the "Bhagavata Pu- 
rana," which according to the Hindus is con- 
temporary with the "Veda," "the subtle ele- 
mentary principle produced the vegetable seed 
which first of all gave life to the plants. From 
the plants life passed into the fantastic crea- 
tures which were born of the slime in the 
waters; then, through a series of different 
shapes and animals, it came to man." "They 
passed in succession by way of the plants, the 


The Great Secret 

worms, the insects, the serpents, the tortoises, 
cattle and the wild animals such is the lower 
stage," says Manu again, who adds: "Creatures 
acquired the qualities of those that preceded 
them, so that the farther down its position in 
the series, the greater its qualities." 1 

Have we not here the whole of Darwinian 
evolution confirmed by geology and foreseen at 
least six thousand years ago? On the other 
hand, is not this the theory of the Akahsa, 
which we more clumsily call the ether, the sole 
source of all substances, to which our physical 
science is returning? 2 One might give an in- 
finite number of these disquieting examples. 
Whence did our prehistoric ancestors, in their 
supposedly terrible state of ignorance and aban- 
donment, derive those extraordinary intui- 
tions, that knowledge and assurance which we 
ourselves are scarcely reconquering? And if 
their ideas were correct upon certain points 
which we are able by chance to verify, have 
we not reason to ask ourselves whether they 

1<( Laws of Manu"; I, 20. 

2 It is true that the recent theories of Einstein deny the 
existence of the ether, supposing that radiant energy ivisible 
light, for example is propagated independently through a 
space that is an absolute void. But apart from the fact 
that these theories seem still to be doubtful, it should be 
noted that the scientific ether, to which our modern sci- 
entists have been obliged to resort, is not precisely the Hindu 
Akahsa, which is much more subtle and immaterial, being 
a sort of spiritual element or divine energy, space uncreated, 
imperishable, and infinite. 



may not have seen matters more correctly and 
farther ahead than we did in respect of many 
other problems, as to which they are equally 
definite in their assertions but which have hith- 
erto been beyond our verification? One thing 
is certain, that to reach the stage at which they 
then stood they must have had behind them 
a treasury of traditions, observations, and ex- 
periences in a word, of wisdom of which we 
find it difficult to form any conception; but in 
which, while waiting for something better, we 
ought to place rather more confidence than we 
have done, and by which we might well benefit, 
assuaging our fears and learning to understand 
and reassure ourselves in respect of our future 
beyond the tomb and guiding our lives. 


We have just seen that the primitive reli- 
gions, and those which derive therefrom, are in 
agreement as to the eternally unknowable na- 
ture of the First Cause ; and that their explana- 
tions of the transition from non-being to being, 
from the passive to the active, and of the gen- 
erative division which gives rise to the triad, 
are almost identical. 

Let us here note the strange defect of logic 
which dominates and spreads its shadow over 
the whole problem of religion. The mother- 
religions, or rather the mother-religion, tells 

The Great Secret 

us that the Cause of Causes is unknowable; 
that it is impossible to define, comprehend, or 
imagine it; that it is It and nothing more; 
that it is non-existence while it is yet preemi- 
nently and essentially Being, eternal, infinite, oc- 
cupying all time and space ; indeed it is all time 
and space, having neither shape nor desire nor 
any particular attribute, since it has all. Now, 
from this unconditioned Something, this abso- 
lute of the absolute, of which we cannot say 
what it is, and even less what it purposes of 
this, the very source of the undefinable, and 
the unknowable, religion calls forth emana- 
tions which immediately become gods, per- 
fectly comprehended, perfectly defined, acting 
very definitely in their respective spheres, 
manifesting a personal power and will, pro- 
mulgating laws and a whole moral code with 
which man is enjoined to comply. How 
can entities so completely comprehended 
emerge from an entity essentially unknown? 
How, if the whole is unknowable, can a 
part of this whole suddenly become famil- 
iar? In this illimitable and inconceivable 
Something, the only thing admissible, for it is 
to this that science is leading us back, where is 
the point whence the gods who have been im- 
posed upon us emerge? Where is the link? 
Where the affinity? Where and at what 
moment was the incomprehensible miracle per- 



formed of the transubstantiation of the un- 
knowable? Where is the transition- which 
justifies this formidable change from unfathom- 
able obscurity, not to the possible or the 
probable merely, but to the known, described 
even to its smallest details? 

Does it not seem as though the mother-reli- 
gion and after it all the other faiths, which 
are but its offspring, more or less disguised 
must have wilfully split itself in two, or rather 
that it must have taken a stupendous and wil- 
fully blind leap into the gulf of unreason? Is 
it not possible that it has not dared to deduce 
all the consequences of its tremendous admis- 
sion? And would it not, for that matter, have 
deduced the consequences elsewhere, and pre- 
cisely in the secret doctrines whose traces we 
are still vainly seeking, and whose revelation 
sealed forever the lips of the great initiates? 


This suspicion, which will recur more than 
once as we probe more deeply into these reli- 
gions, would explain the dread cry of occultist 
tradition, of which we have we have already 
spoken: "Osiris is a dark god!" Can it be 
that the great, supreme secret is absolute ag- 
nosticism? Without speaking of the esoteric 
doctrines, of which we are ignorant, have we 
not an all but public avowal in the word Maya 


The Great Secret 

the most mysterious of Indian words, which 
means that all things, even the universe and the 
gods who create, uphold, and rule it, are but 
the illusion of ignorance, and that the uncreated 
and the unknowable alone are real? 

But what religion could proclaim to its faith- 
ful: "We know nothing; we merely declare 
that this universe exists, or, at least appears 
to our eyes to exist. Does it exist of itself, 
is it itself a god, or is it but the effect of a re- 
mote cause? And behind this remote cause 
must we not suppose yet another and remoter 
cause, and so forth indefinitely, to the verge 
of madness: for if God is, who created God? 

"Whether He is cause or effect matters little 
enough to our ignorance, which in any case re- 
mains irreducible. Its blind spots have merely 
been shifted. Traditions of great antiquity 
tell us that He is rather the manifestation of 
a Cause even more inconceivable than Him- 
self. We accept this tradition, which is, per- 
haps, more inexplicable than the riddle itself 
as we perceive it, but which seems to take into 
account its apparently transitory or perishable 
elements, and to replace them by an eternal 
foundation, immutable and purely spiritual. 
Knowing absolutely nothing of this Cause we 
must confine ourselves to noting certain pro- 
pensities, certain states of equilibrium, certain 
laws, which seem to be its will. Of these, for 


the time being, we make gods. But these gods 
are merely personifications, perhaps accurate, 
perhaps illusory, perhaps erroneous, of what 
we believe ourselves to have observed. It is 
possible that other more accurate observations 
will dethrone them. It is possible that a day 
will come when we shall perceive that the un- 
known Cause, in some respect a little less un- 
known, has had other intentions than those 
which we have attributed to it. We shall then 
change the names, the purposes, and the laws 
of our gods. But in the meantime those whom 
we offer you are born of observations and ex- 
periences so wise and so ancient that hitherto 
none have been able to excel them." 


While it was impossible thus to address its 
faithful, who would not have understood its 
confession, it could safely reveal the secret to 
the last initiates, who had been prepared by 
protracted ordeals and whose intelligence was 
attested by a selection of inhuman severity. To 
certain of these, then, it admitted everything. 
It probably told them: "In offering mankind 
our gods we had no wish to deceive them. If 
we had confessed to them that God is unknown 
and incomprehensible; that we cannot say what 
He is or what He purposes; that He has nei- 
ther shape nor substance nor dwelling-place, nei- 


The Great Secret 

ther beginning nor end; that He is everywhere 
and nowhere; that He is nothing becauses He 
is everything: they would have concluded that 
He does not exist at all, that neither laws nor 
duties have any existence, and that the uni- 
verse is a vast abyss in which all should make 
haste to do as they please. Now even if we 
know nothing we know that this is not so and 
cannot be so. We know, in any case, that the 
Cause of Causes is not material, as men would 
understand it, for all matter appears to be per- 
ishable, and perishable it cannot be. For us 
this unknown Cause is actually our God, be- 
cause our understanding is capable of perceiv- 
ing it as having a scope which is limited only 
by our finite imagination. We know, with a 
certainty that nothing has power to shake, that 
this Cause, or the Cause of this Cause, and so 
forth indefinitely, must exist, although we are 
aware that we can never know it or understand 
it. But very few men are capable of convinc-^ 
ing themselves of the existence of a thing which 
they can never hope to touch, feel, hear, know, 
or understand. This is why, instead of the 
nothingness which they would think that we 
were offering them were we to tell them how 
ignorant we are of all things, we offer them as 
their guide certain apparent traces of purpose 
which we believe ourselves to have detected in 
the darkness of time and space." 




This confession of absolute ignorance in re- 
spect of the First Cause and the essential nature 
of the God of Gods will be found likewise at 
the root of the Egyptian religion. But it is 
very probable that once it was lost to sight 
for humanity does not care to linger in hope- 
lessness and ignorance it would have been 
necessary to repeat it to the initiates, to state 
it definitely, to emphasize it and to deduce 
its consequences; and, thus revealed in its en- 
tirety, it may have become the foundation of 
the secret doctrine. We find, in fact, that the 
makers of the subsequent theogonies were eager 
to forget the confession recorded on the first 
pages of the sacred books. They no longer 
took it into account; they thrust it back into 
the darkness of the beginning, the night of the 
incomprehensible. No longer was it discussed, 
for men concerned themselves now only with 
the gods who had issued from it, forgetting 
always to add that having emanated from the 
inexpressible unknown they must necessarily, 
essentially and by definition, participate in its 
nature, and must be equally unknown and un- 
knowable. It may therefore be the case that 
the secret doctrine reserved to the high priests 
led them to a more accurate conception of the 
primordial truth. 

The Great Secret 

There was in all probability no need to add 
further explanations to this confession since it 
destroys the very grounds of all possible ex- 
planations. What, for example, could the ini- 
tiates be told on the subject of the first and 
most formidable of all enigmas, which is en- 
countered immediately following that of the 
Cause of Causes the origin of evil? The ex- 
oteric religions solved the riddle by dividing 
and multiplying their gods. This was a simple 
and easy procedure. There were gods of light 
who represented, and did, good; and there were 
gods of darkness who represented, and did, 
evil; they fought one another in all the worlds, 
and although the good gods were always the 
more powerful they were never completely 
victorious in this world. We shall find the 
most definite types of this dualism in the my- 
thology of the "Avesta," in which they take 
the names of Ormuz and Ahriman; but by 
other names, and in other shapes, and indefi- 
nitely multiplied, we shall find them in all reli- 
gions even in Christianity, in which Ahriman 
becomes the prince of devils. 

But what could the initiates have been told? 
The modern theosophists who profess to un- 
veil at least a portion of the secret doctrines, 
by subdividing in a similar fashion the mani- 
festations of the unknown origin, do no more 
than reproduce in another shape the too facile 



explanations of exoteric religion, so that they 
remain as far removed from the source of the 
enigma as the exoteric doctrine itself; and in 
the whole domain of occultism we do not find 
even a shadow of the beginning of an explana- 
tion which differs otherwise than in its terms 
from those of the official religions. We do not 
know, then, what was revealed to them; and it 
is likely enough that, just as in the case of the 
mysterious First Cause, they had to be told 
that no one knew anything. In all probability 
it was impossible to tell them anything that 
the optimistic philosophies of to-day could not 
tell us; namely, that evil does not exist of it- 
self, but only from our point of view; that it is 
purely relative, that moral evil is but a blind- 
ness or a caprice of our judgment, while phys- 
ical evil is due to a defective organization or 
an error of sensibility; that the most terrible 
pain is only pleasure incorrectly interpreted by 
our nerves, just as the keenest pleasure is al- 
ready pain. This may be true; but we 
wretched human beings, and above all the 
lower animals whose only life is this one, have 
a right to demand a few supplementary expla- 
nations, if, as is only too often the case, this 
life is merely a tissue of intolerable suffering. 
The initiated must have been given such ex- 
planations. They were referred to reincarna- 
tion, to theories of expiation and purification. 


The Great Secret 

But these hints, valuable enough if we admit 
the hypothesis of intelligent gods whose inten- 
tions are known, are less defensible when we are 
dealing with an unknowable Cause, to which 
we cannot attribute intelligence or will without 
denying that they are unknown. If the adepts 
were ever given any other explanation, of a 
nature to impose itself upon them, this explana- 
tion should have contained the sovereign key 
of the enigma; it should have revealed all the 
mysteries. But not even the shadow of this 
chimerical key has come down to us. 


Uncertain though its foundations may be, 
since they rest only on the unknowable, the fact 
remains that this primitive religion has handed 
down to us an incomparable body of doctrine 
touching the constitution and evolution of the 
universe, the duration of the transformations 
of the stars and the earth, time, space, and 
eternity, the relations between matter and 
mind, the invisible forces of nature, the prob- 
able destiny of mankind, and morality. The 
esoterism of all the religions, from that of 
Egypt perhaps, and in any case from those of 
Persia and Chaldea, and the Greek mysteries, 
down to the Hermetics of the middle ages, 
benefited by this doctrine, deriving from it the 
most important and most reliable elements of 



its prestige, by attributing them to a secret rev- 
elation, until the discovery of the sacred books 
of India made known their actual source and 
propounded a fresh enigma. Fundamentally 
esoterism was never anything more than a more 
learned cosmogony, a more rational, more ma- 
jestic, and purer theogony, a loftier morality 
than that of the vulgar religions; moreover it 
possessed, for the preservation or defense of 
its doctrines, the secret, painfully transmitted 
and often terribly obscured, of the manipula- 
tion of certain forgotten forces. To-day we 
are able, beneath all its deformations, all its 
disguises, and all its masks, which are some- 
times dreadfully distorted, to recognize the 
same countenance. From this point of view 
it is certain that since the publication and trans- 
lation of the authentic texts, occultism, as it 
was still understood scarcely more than fifty 
years ago, has lost three fourths of its richest 
territories. Notably it has lost almost all 
doctrinal interest except as a means of verifica- 
tion, since we are now able to learn, at the 
very source from which it used to flow so 
grudgingly, all that it used secretly to teach: 
on the subject of God or the gods; the origin 
of the world; the immaterial forces which 
govern it; heaven and hell, as understood by 
the Jews, Greeks, and Christians; the constitu- 
tion of the body and the soul, the destiny of 


The Great Secret 

the latter, its responsibilities, and its life be- 
yond the tomb. 

On the other hand, if these ancient and au- 
thentic texts having at last been translated, 
prove that nearly all the affirmations of oc- 
cultism, from the doctrinal point of view, were 
not purely imaginary but were based on real 
and immemorial traditions, they permit us like- 
wise to suppose that all its assertions in other 
respects, and especially with regard to the 
utilization of certain unknown energies, may 
be not purely chimerical; and in this way it 
gains on the one hand what it loses on the other. 
In fact, while we possess the more important 
of the sacred books of India, it is almost cer- 
tain that there are others with which we are 
not yet acquainted, just as it is highly probable 
that we have still to fathom the hidden mean- 
ing of many of the hieroglyphs. It may there- 
fore be a fact that the occultists became ac- 
quainted with these writings or these oral tradi- 
tions by infiltrations such as those which we 
have remarked. It would seem that the traces 
of such infiltrations are perceptible in their 
biology, their medicine, their chemistry, their 
physics, their astronomy, and especially in all 
that touches on the existence of the more or 
less immaterial entities who appear to live 
with and around us. In this connection oc- 
cultism still retains an interest and deserves an 



attentive and methodical study which might ef- 
fectively support and perhaps participate in 
the investigations which the independent and 
methodical metapsychists have on their part 
undertaken in respect of the same subject. 


As for the primitive tradition, while it has 
lost the prestige attaching to occultism, and 
while on the other hand its foundations are in- 
admissible in that it derives all its precepts and 
all its affirmations from a source which it has 
itself declared to be forever inaccessible, in- 
comprehensible, and unknowable, it is none the 
less true, if we ignore this defective founda- 
tion, that these affirmations and precepts are 
the most unlooked-for, the loftiest, the most 
admirable and the most plausible that man- 
kind has hitherto known. 

Have we the right, for example, to reject a 
priori, as a puerile fancy, wholly unsupported, 
the conception of the Fall of Man, which we 
cannot verify, when close beside it, almost con- 
temporary with it, we find another disaster, 
equally general; that of the world-wide, pre- 
historic deluges and cataclysms which the 
geologists have actually verified? With what 
profound truth may not this legend of a super- 
humanity, happier and more intelligent than 
ours, correspond? So far we know nothing of 


The Great Secret 

it; but neither did we know what corresponded 
with the tradition of the great catastrophes be- 
fore the annals of these upheavals, inscribed in 
the bowels of the earth, revealed to us what 
had occurred. I might mention a large num- 
ber of traditions of this sort, the intuitions of 
genius or immemorial truths, to which science is 
to-day returning, or is at least discovering their 
vestiges. I have already spoken of the suc- 
cessive appearance of the various forms of life 
precisely in the order assigned to them by the 
paleontologists. To these we must add the 
preponderant part played by the ether, that 
cosmic, imponderable fluid, the bridge between 
mind and matter, the source of all that which 
the primitive religion called Akahsa, and which 
by constant repetition, becomes the Telesma of 
Hermes Trismegistus, the living fire of Zo- 
roaster, the generative fire of Herodotus, the 
ignis subtillissimus of Hippocrates, the astral 
light of the cabala, the pneuma of Gallien, the 
quintessence or azote of the alchemists, the 
spirit of life of St. Thomas Aquinas, the sub- 
tle matter of Descartes, the spiritus subtillis- 
simus of Newton, the Od of Reichenbach and 
Carl du Prel, "the infinite ether, mysterious and 
always in movement, whence all things come 
and whither all return," to which our scientists, 
in their laboratories, are at last obliged to have 



recourse in order to account for a host of 
phenomena which without it would be utterly 
inexplicable. All that our chemists and phys- 
icists call heat, light, electricity, and magnet- 
ism was for our ancestors merely the element- 
ary manifestations of a single substance. 
Thousand of years ago they recognized the 
presence and the all-powerful intervention of 
this ubiquitous agent in all the phenomena of 
life; just as they described, long before our 
astronomers, the birth and formation of the 
stars ; just as the pretended myth of the trans- 
mutation of the metals, which they bequeathed 
to the alchemists of the middle ages, is likewise 
confirmed by the chemical and thermal evolu- 
tion of the stars, "which," as Charles Nord- 
mann remarks, "offer us a perfect example of 
this transmutation, since the heavier metals ap- 
pear only after the lighter elements and when 
they have cooled sufficiently" ; and lastly, since 
we must draw the line somewhere, just as they 
taught, in opposition to the scientists of a 
fairly recent period, that the duration of the 
universe, the ages of the earth, and the time 
which will elapse between its birth and its de- 
struction, must be increased to millions of cen- 
turies, since a day of Brahma, which corre- 
sponds with the evolution of our world, con- 
tains 4320 millions of years. 

The Great Secret 


Our forebears had also an unexpected tradi- 
tion concerning yet another problem, more awe- 
inspiring and more essential, since it involves 
the fundamental law of our universe. Of this 
tradition humanity will never be able to verify 
more than an infinitesimal portion. They tell 
us that the cosmos, the visible manifestation 
of the unknown and invisible Cause, has never 
been and will never be other than an uninter- 
rupted sequence of expansions and contractions, 
of evaporations and condensations, of sleeping 
and waking, of inspirations and expirations, of 
attractions and repulsions, of evolution and in- 
volution, of materialization and spiritualiza- 
tion, "of interiorization and exteriorization" 
as Dr. Jaworski observes, who has discovered 
an analogous principle in biology. 

The unknown Cause awakens, and for thou- 
sands of millions of years suns and planets radi- 
ate energy, dispersing and scattering them- 
selves, spreading throughout space; it sleeps 
again, and for thousands of millions of years 
the same worlds, hastening from every point of 
the horizon, attracting one another, concentrat- 
ing, contracting, and solidifying until they form 
without perishing, for nothing can perish 
only one sole mass, which returns to the invisi- 
ble Cause. It is precisely in one of these peri- 



ods of contraction or inhalation that we are 
living. It is ruled by that vast, mysterious law 
of gravitation, of which no one can say whether 
it is electricity or magnetism or a spiritual 
force, although it is predominant over all the 
other laws of nature. If all bodies so New- 
ton tells us had from all eternity, without be- 
ginning, mutually attracted one another in 
direct proportion to their mass, and inversely 
as the squares of their distances, all the sub- 
stance of the universe ought by now to form 
nothing but an infinite mass, unless we presup- 
pose an absolute and immovable equilibrium 
which would amount to eternal immobility. In 
the perpetual motion of the heavenly bodies, 
in which the displacement of an atom would 
disturb it, it does not seem possible that this 
equilibrium could exist. As a matter of fact, 
it is almost certain that it does not exist, and 
the Apex, that mysterious spot in the celestial 
sphere, not far from Vega, toward which our 
solar system is hurling itself with all its retinue 
of planets, may possibly be, as far as we are 
concerned, its point of rupture and one of the 
first phases of the great contraction, which, ac- 
cording to the latest calculations of the astron- 
omers, will take place in 400,000 years' time. 
But if it is fact that this terrible contraction 
must almost inevitably occur, the universe will 
one day be no more than a monstrous mass of 

The Great Secret 

matter, compact, infinite, and probably forever 
lifeless, outside which nothing could possibly 
find place. Would this illimitable mass, con- 
sisting of the total sum of all cosmic matter, in- 
cluding the etheric and all but spiritual fluid 
that fills the fabulous interstellar spaces, occupy 
the whole of space, finally and eternally con- 
gealed in death, or would it float in a void more 
subtle than that of etheric space, and hence- 
forth subject to other forces? It seems as 
though the fundamental law of the universe 
must result in a sort of annihilation, a blind 
alley, an absurdity; while on the other hand, if 
we deny this universal attraction or gravitation, 
we are denying the only phenomenon which we 
can establish as indisputable, and all the 
heavenly bodies will be absolutely uncontrolled 
by law. 


The imagination, the intuition, the observa- 
tions, or the traditions of our forefathers 
passed this dead point. Behind their mythical 
or mystical phraseology they pondered the uni- 
verse, regarding it as an electrical phenomenon, 
or rather as a vast source of subtle and incom- 
prehensible energy, obeying the same laws as 
those which control magnetic energy, in which 
all is action and reaction; in which two antag- 
onistic forces are always face to face. When 
the poles of the magnet are reversed attraction 


is followed by repulsion, and centripetal by cen- 
trifugal force; while gravitation is opposed by 
another law which as yet is nameless, but which 
redistributes matter and the worlds, in order 
to recommence a new day of Brahma. This 
is the solve et coagula of the alchemists. 

This, obviously, is merely a hypothesis, some 
aspects of which cannot be maintained save by 
certain electrical and magnetic phenomena, and 
the properties of radioactive bodies, and which 
as a whole cannot of course be verified. But 
it is interesting to note once again that this 
hypothesis, the most majestic, the boldest, and 
also the most ancient, being indeed the first of 
all, is perhaps the only one to which science 
might rally without derogation. Here again 
have we not the right to ask ourselves whether 
our forefathers were not more far-sighted, 
more perspicacious than we, and whether we 
ourselves are capable of imagining so vast and 
so probable a cosmogony as theirs? 

If now from these heights we return to man- 
kind we shall discover intuitions or convic- 
tions of no less remarkable a nature. With- 
out venturing ourselves amid the complexity 
of subdivisions which, after all, are of later 
date and would lead us too far afield, we shall 
confine ourselves to saying that in all the primi- 


The Great Secret 

tive doctrines, which agree in a most remark- 
able fashion, man is composed of three essen- 
tial parts: a perishable physical body; a spiri- 
tual principle, a shadow or astral double, like- 
wise perishable, but much more durable than the 
body, and an immortal principle which, after 
more or less protracted developments, returns 
to its origin, which is God. 

Now we can prove that in the phenomena of 
hypnotism, magnetism, mediumship, and som- 
nambulism, in all that concerns certain extraor- 
dinary faculties of the subconsciousness, which 
seem independent of the physical body, and 
also in certain manifestations from beyond the 
grave, which to-day can hardly be denied, our 
metaphsychical sciences are in a sense obliged 
to admit the existence of this astral double, 
which everywhere extends beyond the physical 
entity and is able to leave it, to act independ- 
ently of it and at a distance, and in all proba- 
bility to survive it, which seems once again, and 
in an extremely important connection, to jus- 
tify the almost prehistoric intuitions of our 
Hindu and Egyptian ancestors. 

As I have only too often repeated, we might 

multiply such instances; and when our science 

has thus confirmed one of these intuitions or 

traditions it would be only sensible to regard 



such as are still awaiting this confirmation with 
a little more confidence. The greater the num- 
ber of instances in which it has been proved that 
they were not mistaken, the greater the chances 
that they are in the right in respect of other 
instances which cannot yet be verified. Very 
often these latter are the most important, be- 
ing those which affect us most directly and 
profoundly. We must not as yet draw too 
general or too hasty conclusions ; rather let us, 
as a result of these first confirmations, or be- 
ginnings of confirmations, accord a provisional 
and vigilant credit to the other hypotheses. 
When we have finally verified these first in- 
stances we shall not be out of the wood; but 
we shall be a great deal nearer the open sky 
than we were, which is as much as we have 
the right to hope or demand from any religious 
or philosophical system, or even from any sci- 
ence; to say nothing of the fact that the least 
advance here, at the center of all things, is 
of incomparably greater importance than an ad- 
vance along a diameter or on the circumference ; 
since from this hub or center spring all the 
spokes of that vast wheel of which science has 
barely examined the outer rim. 

It must be admitted once for all that we can- 
not understand or explain anything; otherwise 
we should be no longer men but gods : or rather 
the one God. Apart from a few mathematical 

The Great Secret 

and material proofs whose essential drift we 
cannot after all perceive, all is hypothetical. 
We have nothing but hypotheses on which to 
order our lives, if we cease to count upon cer- 
tainties which will probably never emerge. It 
is therefore of great importance that we should 
select our vital hypotheses carefully, accepting 
only the noblest, the best, and the most credi- 
ble; and we shall find that thes" are almost in- 
variably the most ancient. In the hierarchy of 
evolution we shall never know that central or 
supreme Being, nor His latest thought; but 
for all that we must do our best to learn a great 
deal more than we do know. That we can- 
not know everything is no reason for resigning 
ourselves to knowing nothing; and if branches 
of knowledge other than science, properly or 
improperly so called, are able to help us, to 
lead us farther or more rapidly, we shall do 
well to interrogate them, or at least not to 
reject them beforehand without due investi- 
gation, as has hitherto been done only too read- 
ily and only too often. 


Among these assertions and these doctrines 
that cannot be verified we shall consider only 
those that concern us most intimately, and nota- 
bly those which touch upon the conduct of our 
lives; on the sanctions, the responsibilities, the 



compensations, and the moral philosophy that 
proceed therefrom; on the mysteries of death, 
the life beyond the tomb, and the final destinies 
of mankind. 

Hitherto almost all the doctrines which touch 
upon these points have been, for us Europeans, 
esoteric, hidden away in the scrolls of the cabala 
or the gnosis, the persecuted, humble, and hag- 
gard heirs of the Hindu, Egyptian, Persian, 
and Chaldean wisdom. But since the Sanskrit 
texts have been deciphered they are so no 
longer, at least in their essential elements; for 
although, as I have already stated, we are far 
from being acquainted with all the sacred books 
of India, and are perhaps even farther from 
having grasped the secret meaning of the hiero- 
glyphs, nevertheless it is by no means likely that 
any fresh revelation or complete explanation 
would be of a nature seriously to unsettle what 
we already know. 


No rule of conduct, no moral philosophy 
could be derived from the unknowable First 
Cause, the one unmanifested God. It is in- 
deed impossible to know what He desires or 
intends, since it is impossible to know Him. To 
discover a purpose in the Infinite, in .the uni- 
verse, or in the Deity, we are compelled to 
cast ourselves adrift on the unprovable, and to 


The Great Secret 

cross great gulfs of illogic of which we have 
already spoken, evoking from this Cause, which 
to manifest itself has divided itself, one god or 
many, emanations from the Unknowable, who 
suddenly become as familiar as though they had 
issued from the hands of man. It is obvious 
that the ethical basis resulting from this ar- 
bitrary procedure will always be precarious, 
offering itself merely as a postulate which must 
be accepted with closed eyes. But it is worthy 
of note that, following upon this preliminary 
operation, or concurrently with it, in all the 
primitive religions, we shall find another which 
is, as it were, its necessary and, in any case, its 
invariable consequence : the voluntary sacrifice 
of one of these emanations of the Unknowable, 
Who becomes incarnate, renouncing His pre- 
rogatives, in order to deify humanity by hu- 
manizing God. 

Egypt, India, Chaldea, China, Mexico, Peru 
all know the myth of the child-god born of 
a virgin; and the first Jesuit missionary to 
China discovered that the miraculous birth of 
Christ had been anticipated by Fuh-Ke, who 
was born 3468 years before Jesus. It has 
very truly been said that if a priest of ancient 
Thebes or Heliopolis were to return to earth 
he would recognize, in Raphael's painting of 
the Virgin and Child, the picture of Horus 
in the arms of Isis. The Egyptian Isis, like 



our own Immaculate Virgin, was represented 
standing on a crescent moon and crowned with 
stars. Devaki also is depicted for us bearing 
in her arms the divine Krishna, while Istar, 
in Babylon, holds the infant Tammuz on her 
knees. The myth of the Incarnation, which is 
also a solar myth, is thus repeated from age 
to age, under different names, but it is in India, 
where it almost certainly originated, that we 
find it in its purest, loftiest, and most signi- 
ficant form. 


Without lingering over the doubtful incar- 
nations of the Hermes, the Manus, and the Zo- 
roasters, which cannot be historically verified, let 
us consider, among the many incarnations of 
Vishnu, the second person of the Brahman Trin- 
ity, only the two most famous: the eighth, 
which is that of Krishna, and the ninth, which is 
that of Buddha. The approximate date of the 
earlier incarnation is given us by the "Bhaga- 
vat-Gita," which gives prominence to the 
wonderful figure of Krishna. The Catholic 
Indianists, fearing with all their too narrow 
point of view, that the incarnation of Krishna 
might endanger that of Christ, admit that the 
"Bhagavat-Gita" was written before our era, 
but maintain that it has since been revised. As 
it is difficult to prove such revisions, they add 


The Great Secret 

that if it is actually proved that the "Bhagavat- 
Gita" and other sacred books of an equally em- 
barrassing character are really anterior to 
Christ, they are the work of the devil, who, 
foreseeing the incarnation of Jesus, purposed 
by these anticipations to lessen its effect. How- 
ever this may be, the purely scientific Indian- 
ists William Jones, Colebrooke, Thomas 
Strange, Wilson, Princeps, et al agree in the 
opinion that it dates from at least twelve or 
fourteen centuries before our era. It is in 
fact commented upon and analyzed in the Mo- 
dana-Ratna-Pradipa, (a selection from the 
texts of the most ancient lawmakers), in "Vri- 
haspati," in "Parasara," in "Narada," and in 
a host of other works of indisputable authen- 
ticity. According to other Orientalists, since 
the truth must be told, the poems upon Krishna 
are no older than the "Mahabharata," which 
after all takes us back two centuries before 
Jesus Christ. 

As for the incarnation of Siddartha Gautama 
Buddha, or Sakya-Muni, no doubt is any longer 
possible. Sakya-Muni was a historical person- 
nage who lived in the fifth century before 


All this, moreover, is well enough known; it 
is needless to labor the point. But what can 
be the secret meaning of a myth so immemorial, 



so unanimous, so disconcerting? The unknown 
Cause of all causes, subdividing itself, de- 
scending from the heights of the inconceivable, 
sacrificing itself, circumscribing itself, and be- 
coming man that it might make itself known 
to men ! Would not all the possible interpreta- 
tions be unreasonable did we refuse to see, 
beneath this incomprehensible myth, yet an- 
other confession, this time more indirect, better 
disguised, more profoundly concealed, of the 
fundamental agnosticism, the sublime and in- 
vincible ignorance of the great primitive teach- 
ers? They knew that the unknowable could 
give birth to nothing but the unknown. They 
knew that man could never know God; and 
this is why, no longer searching in a direction 
in which all hope was impossible, they directly 
approached humanity, as the only thing with 
which they were acquainted. They said to 
themselves: "It is impossible for us to know 
what God is, or where He is, or what He pur- 
poses; but we do know that, being everywhere 
and everything, He is necessarily in man, and 
that He is man: it is therefore only in man and 
through man that we can discover His pur- 
pose." Under the symbol of the Incarnation 
they thus conceal the great truth that all the 
divine laws are human; and this truth is only 
the reverse of another truth, of no less magni- 
tude; namely, that in mankind is the only god 


The Great Secret 

that we can ever know. God manifests Him- 
self in nature, but He has never spoken to 
us save by the voice of mankind. Do not look 
elsewhere; do not seek in the inaccessible infin- 
ity of space the God whom you are eager to 
find; it is in you yourself that He is hidden 
and it is in you yourself that you must find 
Him. He is there, within you, no less than in 
those in whom He appears to be incarnated 
in a more dazzling fashion. Every man is 
Krishna, every man is Buddha; there is no 
difference between the God incarnate in them 
and Him who is incarnate in you; but they 
found Him more easily than you have done. 
Imitate them and you will be their peer; and 
if you cannot keep up with them you can at 
least give ear to what they tell you, for they 
can but tell you what the God who is within 
you would tell you, if you had learned to 
listen to Him as they have listened. 


There we have the foundation of the whole 
of the Vedic religion, and of all the esoteric 
religions which have sprung from it. But at 
its source the truth will hardly be enwrapped 
in symbols or transparent myths. There is 
nothing secret about it; often, indeed, it de- 
clares itself aloud, without reticence and with- 
out disguise. "When all the other gods are 



no more than disappearing names," says Max 
Miiller, "there are left only the Atman, the 
subjective self, and Brahma, the objective self; 
and the supreme knowledge is expressed in 
these words: 'Tat Twam, Hoc tit'; 'That is 
You'; you, your true self, that which cannot be 
taken from you when all has disappeared that 
seemed for a time to be yours. When all 
created things vanish like a dream your true 
ego belongs to the Eternal Self: the Atman, the 
personality within you, is the true Brahma : 
that Brahma from whom birth and death di- 
vided you for a moment, but who receives you 
again into his bosom, so soon as you return 
to him." 1 

"The 'Rig-Veda,' or the 'Veda' of the hymns, 
the true 'Veda,' the 'Veda' par excellence," 
continues Max Miiller, "ends in the 'Upani- 
shads,' or, as they were afterwards called, the 
'Vedanda.' Now the dominant note of the 
'Upanishads' is 'Know thyself; that is, Know 
the being who is the upholder of your ego; 
learn to find Him and to know Him in the 
Eternal and Supreme Being, the One Alone, 
who is the upholder of the whole universe." 

"This religion at its ultimate height, the 
religion of the Fanaprastha, that is, of the old 
man, the man who has paid his three debts, 
whose eyes have beheld 'the son of his son' 

*Max Miiller, "The Origin of Religion." 

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and who withdraws into the forest, becomes 
purely mental; and finally self-examination, in 
the profoundest meaning of the word, that is, 
the recognition of the individual self as one 
with the Eternal Self, becomes the only oc- 
cupation which is still permitted to him." 

"Search for the Me hidden in your heart," 
says the "Mahabharata," the final echo of the 
great doctrine; "Brahma, the True God, is 
you yourself." This, let me repeat, is the 
foundation of Vedic thought, and it is from 
this thought that all the rest proceeds. To 
recover it we have no need of modern theos- 
ophy, which has but confirmed it by less famil- 
iar texts whose authority is less assured. It 
was never secret, but by its very magnitude it 
escaped the gaze of those who could not under- 
stand it, and little by little, as the gods multi- 
plied and stepped down to the level of mankind, 
it was lost to sight. Its very nobility made it 
esoteric. In the heroic age of Vedism, when 
almost all men, having done their duty to their 
parents and their children, used to withdraw 
into the forest, there peacefully to wait for 
death, retiring within themselves and seeking 
there the hidden god with whom they were 
soon to be confounded, it was the thought of 
a whole people. But the peoples are not 
long faithful to the heights. To avoid losing 
all touch with them it was forced to descend, 



to conceal its features, to mingle with the 
crowd in a thousand disguises. Nevertheless 
we always discover it beneath the increasingly 
heavy veils with which it cloaks itself. "Man 
is the key to the universe," declared the funda- 
mental axiom of the medieval alchemists, in a 
voice stifled beneath the litter of illegible texts 
and undecipherable conjuring-books, as Novalis, 
perhaps without realizing that he was redis- 
covering a truth many thousands of years old, 
indeed almost as old as the world, once more 
repeated it in a form scarcely altered, when he 
taught that "our first duty is the search for 
our transcendental ego." 

Abandoned in an infinite universe in which 
we cannot know anything but ourselves, is not 
this, as a matter of fact, the only truth that has 
survived, the only one that is not illusory, and 
the only one to which we might still hope to re- 
turn, after so many misadventures, so many 
erroneous interpretations in which we failed to 
recognize it? 


God, or the First Cause, is unknowable; but 
being everywhere He is necessarily within us: 
it is therefore within ourselves that we shall 
succeed in discovering what it behooves us to 
know of Him. These are the two supporting 
piers of the arch sustaining the primitive re- 

The Great Secret 

ligion and all those religions which spring there- 
from, or, at least, the actual though secret 
doctrine of all those religions: that is, of all 
the religions known to us, apart from the fet- 
ishism of utterly barbarous peoples. It found 
these points of support in the beginning, or 
rather in what we call the beginning, which 
must have had behind it a past of thousands, 
perhaps millions, of years. We have found no 
others; we never shall find others, failing an 
impossible revelation impossible in fact if not 
in principle, for nothing that is not human 
or divinely human can reach us. We have re- 
turned to the point whence our forefathers set 
out; and the day on which humanity discovers 
another such point will be the most extraor- 
dinary day that will have shone upon our planet 
since its birth. 

The incarnations of God, in primitive re- 
ligious thought, are merely periodical and spo- 
radic externalizations, dazzling manifestations, 
synthetic and exceptional, of the God who is in 
every human being. This incarnation is uni- 
versal, and latent in each of us; but while the 
incarnation is regarded as a privilege for the 
man in whom it occurs, it is considered a sacri- 
fice on the part of the god. Vishna willingly 
sacrifices himself when he descends to earth in 
the person of Krishna or Buddha. Has he 
likewise sacrificed himself by descending to 


earth in the rest of mankind? Whence comes 
this idea of sacrifice? It is a mysterious idea, 
dating assuredly from traditions of great an- 
tiquity; in any case, it does not appear to be 
purely rational, like the two previous concep- 
tions. Nowhere is it explained why it is neces- 
sary that an emanation of God should descend 
into man, who is already a divine emanation. 
Here is a gap which is not bridged by the myth 
of the Fall, a myth which is likewise unex- 
plained, unless the idea in question is based 
merely upon the declaration that every man who 
surpasses his fellows, whose sight is keener 
than theirs, and who teaches them what they 
cannot yet understand, is necessarily misunder- 
stood, persecuted, a hapless sacrifice. 


This idea, whether it can or cannot be ex- 
plained, is none the less of great importance; 
for it seems to have steered primitive moral- 
ity into one of its principal highways. Indeed, 
the conception of the unknowable, while it set 
free those courageous thinkers who adventured 
upon its naked peaks, was powerless to afford 
more than a negative doctrine. To be sure, it 
dispersed the little anthropomorphic and almost 
always maleficent gods, but in their place it left 
only a vast and silent void. On the other hand, 
pantheism, being as comprehensive as agnosti- 


The Great Secret 

cism, taught that as God was everywhere and 
all things were God, all things ought to be 
loved and respected; but it followed that evil, 
or at least that which man is forced to call 
evil, was divine, just as / goodness is divine, 
so that it must be loved and respected equally 
with goodness. The idea was too stark, too 
illimitable, over-arching the two poles of the 
universe in too colossal a fashion; man did not 
dare to involve himself, did not dare to select 
a pathway. 

Lastly, the search for the god hidden in each 
of us, which is one of the corollaries of panthe- 
ism, if it be left without guidance, could only 
have perilous consequences. There are within 
us all kinds of gods; that is, all sorts of in- 
stincts, thoughts, or passions, which may be 
taken for gods. Some are good and some evil, 
and the evil gods are often more numerous, 
and in any case more readily discoverable than 
the good. The true God, the supremest Deity 
and the most immaterial, reveals Himself only 
to a few. This God being thus revealed 
who is, after all, no more than the best thoughts 
of the best of us, He had to call upon 
Himself the attention of other men, to make 
Himself known to them, to impose Himself 
upon them; and it is perhaps for this reason 
that this singular myth, which fundamentally is 
probably no more than the recognition of a 



natural and human phenomenon, has little by 
little obtruded itself, struck root, and de- 
veloped. It is indeed probable enough, like 
everything else connected with the evolution of 
mankind, that it did not suddenly spring from 
a single mind, but dimly took shape, slowly 
assuming a definite form in the course of un- 
numbered centuries of tentative experiments. 


Without lingering longer over this enigma 
we shall confine ourselves to considering its 
influence on primitive morality, by directing the 
latter from the very outset toward other pin- 
nacles than those to which the understand- 
ing pointed the way. In its absence the primi- 
tive morality which believed itself to be listen- 
ing to a hidden God, but which in truth was 
only giving ear to human reason, would have 
been no more than a morality of the brain that 
might have been deflected toward a barren con- 
templation or a cold, rigid, austere, and im- 
placable rationalism; for the reason alone, even 
when it reaches the loftiest heights and is taken 
for the voice of God, is not enough to guide 
mankind toward the summits of abnegation, 
goodness, and love. The example of an in- 
itial sacrifice curbed its severity, launching it 
in another direction and toward a goal of which 
it might perhaps in the end have caught a 


The Great Secret 

glimpse, but which it would not have reached 
until very much later, after many grievous 

Is it upon this myth of incarnation that the 
dogma has grafted itself, although properly 
speaking there are no dogmas in the Oriental 
religions the dogma of reincarnation in 
which are found all the sanctions and all the 
rewards of the primitive religion? The es- 
sential principle of man, the basis of his ego, 
being divine and immortal, after the disap- 
pearance of the body which has for the time 
being divorced it from its spiritual origin, 
should logically return to that origin. But, 
on the other hand, the invisible God having 
through the medium of the great incarnations 
introduced into morality the conception of good 
and evil, it did not seem admissible that the 
soul, which had not listened to its own voice 
or to that of the divine teachers, and which 
had become more or less soiled by its earthly 
life, should be able, at once and without pre- 
vious purification, to return to the immaculate 
ocean of the Eternal Spirit. From incarnation 
to reincarnation there was only a step, which, 
without doubt, was taken all but unconsciously; 
from reincarnation to successive reincarnations 
and purifications the transition was even sim- 
pler; and from these proceeds the whole of 
the Hindu moral philosophy, with its Karma, 


vhich after all is only the judicial record of 
the soul, a record which is always up to date, 
becoming worse or better in the course of its 
palingeneses, until the attainment of Nirvana; 
which is not, as it is too often described, an 
annihilation or a dispersal in the bosom of the 
Deity, nor yet, on the other hand, a reunion 
with God, coinciding with the perfecting of 
the human spirit freed of matter, an absolute 
acquiescence in the law, an unalterable tran- 
quillity in the contemplation of that which ex- 
ists, a disinterested hope in that which ought 
to be, and repose in the absolute, that is, in 
the world of causes in which all the illusions 
of the senses disappear; but a more mysterious 
state which is neither perfect happiness nor 
annihilation, but, properly speaking and once 
again, the Unknowable. "That Perfection ex- 
ists after death," says a text contemporary with 
the Buddha, revealing the meaning of Nirvana, 
which had then become esoteric: "That Per- 
fection both exists and does not exist after 
death, that likewise is not true." 1 

As Oldenberg says very truly, citing this 
pasage among several others in which the same 
admission is made: "This is not to deny Nir- 
vana or Perfection, or to conclude that it does 
not exist at all. Here the spirit has reached 
the brink of an unfathomable mystery. Use- 

x "Sanyatta Nikaya"; Vol. II, fol. no and 199. 

The Great Secret 

less to seek to disclose it. If one were finally 
to renounce a future Eternity one would speak 
in another fashion; it is the heart that takes 
refuge behind the veil of the mystery. From 
the mind that hesitates to admit eternal life 
as conceivable it seeks to wrest the hope of a 
life that passes all understanding." J 

All this amounts to a repetition of the old 
fundamental admissions that in respect of es- 
sentials we know nothing and can know noth- 
ing, while it is also a fresh proof of the mag- 
nificent sincerity and the lofty and sovereign 
wisdom of the primitive religion. 

Will all living beings end by attaining Nir- 
vana? What is to happen in that case, and 
why is it, since all things exist from all eternity, 
that all have not already reached it? To these 
questions and others of a like nature the "Ve- 
das" vouchsafed only a disdainful silence; but 
some of the Buddhist texts, and among them 
the following, discreetly reply to those who 
would know too much: 

"This the Sublime One has not revealed, 
because it does not minister to salvation, be- 
cause it is no help to the devout life, because it 
does not conduce to detachment from earthly 
things, to the annihilation of desire, to cessa- 
tion, to repose, to knowledge, to illumination, 

1 Oldenberg, Le Bouddha; p. 285. 


to Nirvana; for this reason the Sublime has 
revealed nothing relating to it." 


Whatever the value of these hypotheses, it 
is indubitable that the moral system which we 
find proceeding from this boundless agnosti- 
cism and pantheism is the noblest, the purest, 
the most disinterested, the most sensitive, the 
most thoroughly investigated, the most fastidi- 
ous, the clearest, the completest that we have 
as yet known and doubtless could ever hope to 

This morality, as well as the enigma of in- 
carnation and sacrifice of which we have just 
been speaking, and many other points which we 
have only touched upon, ought to be subjected 
to a special examination which does not enter 
into our design. It will suffice to recall the 
fact that it is based on the principle of succes- 
sive reincarnations and of Karma. 

The world, properly speaking, was not cre- 
ated; there is no word in Sanskrit that corre- 
sponds with the idea of creation, just as there 
is none that corresponds with the conception of 
nothingness. The universe is a momentary and 
doubtless illusory materialization of the un- 
known and spiritual Cause. Divided from the 
Spirit which is its proper essence, actual and 


The Great Secret 

eternal, matter tends to return to it through all 
the phases of evolution. Starting from be- 
neath the mineral stage, passing through plant 
and animal, ending in man, and outstripping 
him, it is transformed and spiritualized until 
it is sufficiently pure to return to its point of 
origin. This purification often demands a long 
series of reincarnations, but it is possible to re- 
duce their number, and even to set a term to 
them, by an intensive spiritualization, heroic 
and absolute, which at death, and sometimes 
even during life, leads the soul back to the 
bosom of Brahma. 

This explanation of the inexplicable, despite 
the objections which suggest themselves, nota- 
bly in respect of the origin and necessity of 
matter, or of evil, which remain obscure, is as 
good as any other, and has the advantage of 
being the earliest in date, apart from the fact 
that it is the most comprehensive, embracing 
all that can be imagined, setting out from the 
great spiritual principle to which, in the ab- 
sence of any other of an acceptable nature, 
we are more and more imperiously compelled 
to return. 

In any case, as it has proved, it has favored 
more than any other the birth and development 
of a morality to which man had never attained, 
and which, so far, he has never surpassed. 

To give a sufficient idea of this morality 


would require more space than is at my dis- 
posal, and destroy the scheme of this inquiry. 
The wonderful thing about this morality, 
when we consider it near its source, where it 
still retains its purity, is that it is wholly in- 
ternal, wholly spiritual. It finds its sanctions 
and its rewards only in our own hearts. There 
is no Judge awaiting the soul on its release 
from the body; no paradise and no hell, for 
hell was a later development. The soul it- 
self, the soul alone, is its Judge, its heaven, or 
its hell. It encounters nothing, no one. It 
has no need to judge itself, for it sees itself as 
it is, as its thoughts and actions have made it, 
at the close of this life and of previous lives. 
It sees itself, in short, in its entirety, in the 
infallible mirror which death holds up to it, 
and realizes that it is its own happiness, its 
own misery. Happiness and suffering are self- 
created. It is alone in the infinite; there is 
no God above it to smile upon it or to fill it 
with terror; the God whom it has disappointed, 
displeased, or satisfied is itself. Its condemna- 
tion or its absolution depend upon that which 
it has become. It cannot escape from itself 
to go elsewhere where it might be more fortu- 
nate. It cannot breathe save in the atmosphere 
which it has created for itself; it is its own at- 
mosphere, its own world, its own environment; 
and it must uplift and purify itself in order 


The Great Secret 

that this world and this environment may be 
purified and uplifted, expanding with it and 
around it. 

"The soul," says Manu, "is its own witness; 
the soul is its own refuge; never despise your 
soul, the sovereign witness of mankind ! 

"The wicked say: 'No one sees us'; but the 
gods are watching them, as is the Spirit en- 
throned within them." 

"O man! when thou sayest to thyself: 'I 
am alone with myself,' there dwells forever 
in thy heart this supreme Spirit, the attentive 
and silent observer of all good and all evil. 

"This Spirit enthroned in thy heart is a strict 
judge, an inflexible avenger; he is Yama, the 
Judge of the Dead." x 


Between birth and death, which is but a 
new birth, the "Laws of Manu" distinguish 
five stages: conception, childhood, the noviti- 
ate (or period of studying the sciences, divine 
and human), fatherhood, and, last of all, the 
stage of the anchorite preparing for death. 
Each of these periods has its duties, which must 
be accomplished before a man may look for- 
ward to withdrawal into the forest. While 
awaiting this hour, desired above all, "resigna- 
tion," says Manu, "the act of returning good 

i"Manu"; VIII, 84, 85, 91, 92. 



for evil, temperance, honesty, purity, chastity, 
repression of the senses, knowledge of the sa- 
cred books, worship of truth, and abstention 
from anger : such are the ten virtues of which 
duty consists." * 

The aim of our life on this earth is to set 
a limit to our reincarnations, for reincarna- 
tion is a punishment which the soul is com- 
pelled to inflict upon itself for so long as it 
does not feel that it is pure enough to return 
to God. "To attain the last phase," says 
Manu, "never again to be reborn upon this 
earth that is the ideal. To be assured of 
eternal happiness assured that the earth shall 
no longer behold the soul returning to cloak it- 
self once again in its gross substance !" 

This purification, this progressive dema- 
terialization, this renunciation of all egoism, 
begins when life begins and is continued through 
all the phases of existence; but one must first 
of all accomplish all the duties of this active 
existence. "For all of you must know," say the 
sacred books, "that none of you shall achieve 
absorption into the bosom of Brahma by prayer 
alone; and the mysterious monosyllable will 
not efface your latest defilement, except you 
reach the threshold of the future life laden 
with good works; and the most meritorious of 
these works will be those which are based upon 

i"Manu"; VI, 92- 


The Great Secret 

the motives of charity and love for one's 

"One single good action," says Manu 
further, u is worth more than a thousand good 
thoughts, and those who fulfil their obligations 
are superior to those who perceive them." 

"Let the sage constantly observe the moral 
obligations (Yamas) more attentively than the 
religious duties (Niyamas) for he who neg- 
lects the moral duties is losing ground even if 
he observes his religious obligations." 


There are in the life of man two plainly 
distinguished periods : the active or social phase 
during which he establishes his family, assures 
the fate of his posterity, and tills the soil with 
his own hands, fulfilling the humble duties of 
every-day life toward his relatives and those 
about him. For these yet ungodly days abound 
in the most angelic precepts of resignation, of 
respect for life, of patience and love. 

"The ills which we inflict upon our neigh- 
bor," says Krishna, "pursue us as our shadows 
follow our bodies. 

"Just as the earth upholds those that trample 
it underfoot and rend its bosom with the plow, 
so we should return good for evil. 

"Let all men remember that self-respect and 
love for one's neighbor stand above all things. 


"He who fulfils all his obligations to please 
God only and without thinking of future re- 
ward is sure of immortal happiness. 1 

"If a pious action proceeds from the hope 
of reward in this world or the next, that ac- 
tion is described as interested. But that 
which has no other motive than the knowledge 
and love of God is said to be disinterested." 2 
(Let us reflect for a moment upon this saying, 
many thousands of years old: one of those 
sayings which we can repeat to-day without 
the change of a syllable, for here God, as 
in all the Vedic literature, is the best and 
eternal part of ourselves and of the universe.) 

"The man whose religious actions are all 
interested attains the rank of the saints and the 
angels [Devas]. But he whose pious actions 
are all disinterested divests himself forever of 
the five elements, to acquire immortality in the 
Great Soul." 

"Of all things that purify man purity in 
the acquisition of wealth is the best. He who 
retains his purity while becoming rich is truly 
pure, not he who purifies himself with earth 
and water." 

"Learned men purify themselves by the for- 
giveness of trespasses, alms, and prayer. The 
understanding is purified by knowledge." 

i"Manu"; II, 15. 
*lbid.; XII, 89. 


The Great Secret 

"The hand of a craftsman is always pure 
while he is working." 

"Although the conduct of her husband be 
blameworthy, although he may abandon him- 
self to other loves and may be without good 
qualities, a virtuous woman must always revere 
him as a god." 

"He who has defiled the water by some im- 
purity must live upon alms only for a full 

"In order not to cause the death of any 
living creature, let the Sannyasi J [that is, the 
mendicant ascetic], by night as well as by 
day, even at the risk of injury, walk with his 
gaze upon the ground." 2 

"For having on one occasion only, and with- 
out any ill intention, cut down trees bearing 
fruit, or bushes, or tree-creepers, or climbing 
plants, or crawling plants in flower, one must 
repeat a hundred prayers from the 'Rig- 
Veda.' " 

"If a man idly uproots cultivated plants or 
plants which have sprung up spontaneously in 
the forest, he must follow a cow for a whole 
day and take no food but milk." 

"By a confession made in public, by repent- 
ance, by piety, by the recitation of sacred 
prayers, a sinner may be acquitted of his offense, 

1 Literally, "the abandoner." TRANS. 

2"Manu"; XII, 90; V, 106, 107, 129, 154; XI, 255; VI, 68. 



as well as by giving alms, when he finds it 
impossible to perform the other penance." 

"In proportion as his soul regrets a bad ac- 
tion, so far his body is relieved of the burden 
of this perverse action." 

"Success in all worldly affairs depends upon 
the laws of destiny, controlled by the actions 
of mortals in their previous lives, and the 
conduct of the individual; the decrees of destiny 
are a mystery; we must accordingly have re- 
course to means which depend upon man." 

"Justice is the sole friend who accompanies 
man after death, since all affection is subject 
to the destruction suffered by the body." 1 

"If he who strikes you drops the staff which 
he has used, pick it up and return it to him 
without complaint." 

"You will not abandon animals in their old 
age, remembering what services they have 
rendered you." 2 

"He who despises a woman despises his 
mother. The tears of women draw down the 
fire of heaven upon those that make them 

"The upright man may fall beneath the blows 
of the wicked, as does the sandal-tree, which, 
when it is felled, perfumes the ax that lays it 
low." 3 

1<( Manu"; XI, 142, 144, 227, 229; VII, 205. 
2"Sama Veda." 


The Great Secret 

"To carry the three staves of the ascetic, 
to keep silence, to wear the hair in a plait, 
to shave the head, to clothe one's self in gar- 
ments of bark or skins, to say prayers and per- 
form ablutions, to celebrate the Agnihotra, to 
dwell in the forest, to allow the body to be- 
come emaciated all this is useless if the heart 
is not pure." 

"He who, whatever pains he may spend 
on himself, practises tranquillity of mind, who 
is calm, resigned, restrained, and chaste, and 
has ceased to find fault with others, that man 
is truly a Brahman, a Shraman [an ascetic], 
a Bhikshu [a mendicant friar]." 

"O Bharata, of what avail is the forest to 
him who has mastered himself, and of what 
avail is it to him who has not mastered him- 
self? Wherever there lives a man who has 
mastered himself, there is the forest, there is 
the hermitage." 

"If the wise man stay at home, whatever 
care he may take of himself, if all the days of 
his life he is always pure and full of love, he is 
delivered from all evil." 

"It is not the hermitage that makes the 
virtuous man; virtue comes only with practice. 
Therefore let no man do unto others that 
which would cause pain to himself." 

"The world is sustained by every action 
whose sole object is sacrifice; that is, the volun- 



tary gift of self. It is in making this volun- 
tary gift that man should perform the action, 
without respect of usage. The sole object of 
action should be to serve others. He who sees 
inaction in action and action in inaction is wise 
among men: he is attuned to the true principles, 
whatever action he may perform. Such a man, 
who has renounced all interest in the result of 
his action, and is always content, depending up- 
on no one, although he may perform actions, 
is as one who does not perform them. All 
his thoughts, stamped with wisdom, and all his 
actions, consisting of sacrifice, are as though 
faded into air." 1 


There, taken at random, from an enormous 
treasury which is still partly unknown, are a 
few words of counsel, thousands of years old, 
which, long before the advent of Christianity, 
guided men of good will to the border of the 
forest. Then, as Manu says, "when the head 
of the family sees his skin grow wrinkled and 
his hair turn white, when he beholds the son 
of his son" ; when he has no further obligations 
to fulfil; when no one has further need of his 
assistance, then, whether he be the richest 
merchant of the city or the poorest peasant 

1 "Vanaparva"; 13,445: "Parables of Buddhgosha"; 
"Cantiparva"; 5951: "Vanaparva; 13,550: "Laws of 
Yajnavalkya"; III, 65: "Bhaghavat-Gita." 


The Great Secret 

of the village, he may at last devote himself 
to things eternal, leaving his wife, his children, 
his kinsfolk, his friends, and, "taking a gazelle- 
skin or a cloak of bark," may withdraw into 
solitude, burying himself in the vast tropical 
forest, forgetting his body and the vain ideas 
born of it, and giving ear to the voice of the 
God hidden in the depths of his being; the 
voice "of the unseen traveler," in the words 
of the "Brahman of the Hundred Paths"; "the 
voice of him who, understanding, is not under- 
stood; of the thinker of whom none thinks; 
of him who knows but is not known; of the 
Atman, the inner guide, the imperishable, apart 
from whom there is only suffering." He may 
meditate on the infinity of space, the infinity 
of reason, and "the non-existence of nothing" ; 
may seize the moment of illumination which 
brings with it "the deliverance which no one 
can teach, which each must find for himself, 
which is ineffable," and may purify his soul 
in order to spare it, if that be possible, yet 
another return to earth. 

Having reached this stage, "let him not wish 
for death; let him not wish for life. Like a 
harvester who, at the fall of night, waits 
quietly for his wages at his master's door, let 
him wait until the moment has arrived." 

"Let him meditate, with the most exclusive 
application of the intellect, upon the subtle and 



indivisible nature of the Supreme mind, and on 
its existence in the bodies of the highest and 
lowest of created things." 

"Meditating with joy upon the Supreme Be- 
ing, having need of nothing, inaccessible to any 
desire of the senses, without other society than 
his own soul and the thought of God, let him 
live in the constant expectation of eternal bliss." 

"For the chiefest of all his obligations is to 
acquire knowledge of the Supreme Mind; and 
this is the first of all the sciences, for this alone 
confers immortality upon man." 

"Thus the man who discovers the Supreme 
Mind in his own mind, and present in all liv- 
ing creatures, will show himself the same to all, 
and will thus assure himself of the happiest 
fate, that of being finally absorbed into the 
bosom of Brahma." x 

"Having thus abandoned all pious practices 
and acts of austere devotion, applying his in- 
tellect solely to the contemplation of the great 
First Cause, exempt from all evil desires, his 
soul is already on the threshold of Swarga, 
while his mortal envelope is still flickering like 
the last glimmer of a dying lamp." 2 

Almost all the foregoing, let us remember, 

1( 'Manu"; VI, 45, 65, 49; XII, 85, 125. 
*lbid.; VI, 96. 


The Great Secret 

is long previous to Buddhism, dating from the 
origins of Brahmanism, and is directly related 
to the "Vedas." Let us agree that this system 
of ethics, of which I have been unable to 
give more than the slightest survey, while the 
first ever known to man, is also the loftiest 
which he has ever practised. It proceeds from 
a principle which we cannot contest even to-day, 
with all that we believe ourselves to have 
learned; namely, that man, with all that suro 
rounds him, is but a sort of emanation, an 
ephemeral materialization, of the unknown 
spiritual cause to which it must needs return, 
and it merely deduces, with incomparable 
beauty, nobility, and logic, the consequences of 
this principle. There is no extra-terrestrial re- 
velation, no Sinai, no thunder in the heavens, 
no god especially sent down upon our planet. 
There was no need for him to descend hither, 
for he was here already, in the hearts of all 
men, since all men are but a part of him and 
cannot be otherwise. They question this god, 
who seems to dwell in their hearts, their minds; 
in a word, in that immaterial principle which 
gives life to their bodies. He does not tell 
them, it is true or perhaps he does tell them, 
but they cannot understand him why, for the 
time being, he appears to have divorced them 
from himself; and we have here a postulate 
the origin of evil and the necessity of suffering 


as inaccessible as the mystery of the First 
Cause : with this difference, that the mystery of 
the First Cause was inevitable, whereas the nec- 
essity of evil and suffering is incomprehensible. 
But once the postulate is granted, all the rest 
clears up and unfolds itself like a syllogism. 
Matter is that which divides us from God; 
the spirit is that which unites us to Him; the 
spirit therefore must prevail over matter. But 
the spirit is not merely the understanding; it 
is also the heart; it is emotion; it is all that 
is not material; so that in all its forms it must 
needs purify itself, reaching forth and uplifting 
itself, to triumph over matter. There never 
was and never could be, I believe, a more im- 
pressive spiritualization than this, nor more 
logical, more unassailable, more realistic, in the 
sense that it is founded only on realities; and 
never one more divinely human. Certain it 
is that after so many centuries, after so many 
acquisitions, so many experiences, we find our- 
selves back at the same point. Starting, like 
our predecessors, from the unknowable, we can 
come to no other conclusion, and we could not 
express it better. Nothing could excel the 
stupendous effort of their speech, unless it were 
a silent resignation, preferable in theory, but 
in practice leading only to an inert and de- 
spairing ignorance. 




WE have already considered, in speaking 
of Nu, Turn, and Phtah, the idea 
which the Egyptians formed of the First Cause, 
and of the creation, or rather, the emanation or 
manifestation, of the universe. This idea 
as we know it, at least, from the translation, 
probably incomplete, of the hieroglyphs, 
though less striking in form, less profound and 
less metaphysical, is analogous to that of the 
"Vedas" and reveals a common source. 

Immediately following the riddle of the 
First Cause they, too, inevitably encountered 
the insoluble problem of the origin of evil, and 
although they did not venture to probe into it 
very deeply, they achieved a solution of it 
which, though paler and more evasive, is at 
bottom almost similar to that of the Hindus. 
In the cult of Osiris spirit and matter are known 
as Light and Darkness, and Set, the antagonist 
of Ra, the sun-god, in the myths of Ra, Osiris, 
and Horus, is not a god of evil," says Le Page 
Renouf, "but represents a physical reality, a 
constant law of nature." * He is a god as 

1 Op. cit.; p. 115. 



real as his adversaries and his cult is as ancient 
as theirs. Like them he has his priests, and is 
the offspring of the same unknown Cause. So 
little can he be divided from the Power opposed 
to him that on certain monuments the heads 
of Horus and Set grow upon the same body, 
making but one god. 

After the same confessions of ignorance, 
here, as in India, the myth of incarnation pro- 
ceeds to define and control an ethic which, 
emerging from the unknowable, could not take 
shape and could not be known except in and by 
man. Osiris, Horus, and Thoth or Hermes, 
who five times put on human form or so the 
occultists tell us are but the more memora- 
ble incarnations of the god who dwells in each 
of us. From these incarnations arises, with 
less refulgence, less abundance, less power 
for the Egyptian genius has not the spacious- 
ness, the exaltation, the power of abstraction 
that mark the Hindu genius an ethic of a 
more lowly and earthly character, but of the 
same nature as that of Manu, Krishna, and 
Buddha; or rather of those who in the night 
of the ages preceded Manu, Krishna, and Bud- 
dha. This ethical system is found in the "Book 
of the Dead" and in sepulchral inscriptions. 
Some of the papyri of the "Book of the Dead" 
are more than four thousand years old, but some 
of the texts from the same book, which were 

The Great Secret 

found on nearly all the tombs and sarcophagi, 
are probably still more ancient. They are, 
with the cuneiform inscriptions, the most an- 
cient writings of known date possessed by man- 

The most venerable of moral codes, the 
work of Phtahotep, still imperfectly deciph- 
ered, contemporary with the pyramids, is 
clothed in the authority of an ancestry infi- 
nitely more remote. "Not one of the Christian 
virtues," says F. J. Chapas, one of the first of 
the great Egyptologists, "has been forgotten 
in the Egyptian system of ethics. Pity, char- 
ity, kindness, self-control in speech and action, 
-chastity, the protection of the weak, benevo- 
lence toward the lowly, deference toward supe- 
riors, respect for the property of others, even 
to the smallest details, all are expressed in 
admirable language." 

"I have not injured a child," says a funeral 
inscription, "I have not oppressed a widow, 
I have not ill-treated a herdsman. During my 
lifetime no one went a-begging, and when the 
years of famine came I tilled all the soil of the 
province, feeding all its inhabitants, and I 
so ordered matters that the widow was as 
though she had not lost her husband." 1 

1 Inscriptions of Ameni, Denkmdler; II, X2z. 


Another inscription commemorates "the 
father of the defenseless, the stay of those who 
were motherless, the terror of the evil-doer, the 
protector of the poor. He was the avenger of 
those who had been despoiled by the mighty. 
He was the husband of the widow and the 
refuge of the orphan." * "He was the pro- 
tector of the humble, a fruitful palm for the in- 
digent, the nourishment of the poor, the wealth 
of the feeble; and his wisdom was at the service 
of the ignorant." 2 "I was the bread of the 
hungry; I was water to the thirsty; I was the 
cloak of the naked and the refuge of the dis- 
tressed. What I did for them God had done 
for me," 3 say other inscriptions, always re- 
turning to the same theme of kindness, justice, 
and charity. "Although I was great I have 
always behaved as though I were humble. I 
have never barred the way to one who was 
worthier than I; I have always repeated what 
has been told me exactly as it was spoken. I 
have never approved that which was base and 
evil, but I have taken pleasure in speaking the 
truth. The sincerity and kindness in the heart 
of my father and mother were repaid to them 
by my love. I was the joy of my brethren 
and the friend of my companions, and I have 

1 Antuff-tablet, Louvre; C, 26. 

2 Borgmann, Hieroglyphische Inschriften; Plate VI, line 
8; Plates VIII, IX. 

1 British Museum; 581. 



The Great Secret 

entertained the passing traveler; my doors 
were open to those who came from abroad, and 
I gave them rest and refreshment. What my 
heart dictated to me I did not hesitate to do." l 


In the "Book of the Dead," when, after the 
long and terrible crossing of the Duat (which 
is not the Egyptian Hades, as some have said, 
but a region intermediate between death and 
eternal life), the soul reached the land of 
Menti, which later was known as Amenti, it 
found itself confronted by Maat or Malt, the 
most mysterious of the Egyptian divinities. 
Maat may be symbolized by a straight line; 
she represents the law, and the true or absolute 
justice. Each of the high gods claims to be 
her master, but she herself admits no master. 
By her the gods live, she reigns alone upon the 
earth, in the heavens and the world beyond 
the tomb; she is at once the mother of the god 
who created her, his daughter, and the god 
himself. Before Osiris, seated upon the 
throne of judgment, the heart of the dead 
man, symbolizing his moral nature, is 
placed in one of the scales of the balance; 
in the other scale is an image of Maat. Forty- 
two divinities, who represent the forty-two sins 
which they are appointed to punish, are ranked 

1 Dumicben, Kalenderinschriften; XLXI. 
I O2 


behind the balance, whose pointer is watched 
by Horus while Tehutin, the god of letters, 
writes down the result of the weighing. All 
this is obviously merely an allegorical represen- 
tation, a sort of pictoral interpretation, a pro- 
jection upon the screen of this world of that 
which happens in the other world, in the depths 
of a soul or a conscience undergoing judgment 
after death. 

Then, if the trial is favorable, an extraor- 
dinary thing come to pass, which reveals the 
secret meaning, profound and unexpected, of 
all this mythology: the man becomes god. He 
becomes Osiris himself. He stands forth as 
identified with him who judges him. He adds 
his name to that of Osiris; he is Osiris so-and- 
so. In short, he discovers himself to be the 
unknown god, the god that he was unawares. 
Hidden in the depths of his soul, he recog- 
nizes the Eternal, whom he had sought all his 
life long, and who, at length set free by his 
good works and his spiritual efforts, reveals 
himself as identical with the god to whom he 
had given ear, the god whom he had adored, 
seeking to draw closer to him by taking him 
for his model. 

This, represented by a different imagery, is 
the absorption of the purified soul into the bo- 
som of Brahma, the return to divinity of what 
is divine in man; and here too, beneath the 

The Great Secret 

dramatic allegory, the soul judges itself and 
recognizes itself as worthy to return to its 


Rudolph Steiner, who, when he does not 
lose himself in visions plausible, perhaps, but 
incapable of verification of the prehistoric 
ages, of astral negatives, and of life on other 
planets, is a shrewd and accurate thinker, has 
thrown a remarkable light upon the meaning of 
this judgment and of the identification of the 
soul with God. "The Osiris Being," he says, 
u is merely the most perfect degree of the hu- 
man being. It goes without saying that the 
Osiris who reigns as a judge over the external 
order of the universe is himself but a perfect 
man. Between the human state and the divine 
there is but a difference of degree. Man is in 
process of development; at the end of his 
course he becomes God. According to this con- 
ception God is an eternal becoming, not a God 
complete in himself. 

"Such being the universal order, it is evident 
that he alone may enter into the life of Osiris 
who has already become an Osiris himself, be- 
fore knocking at the gate of the eternal temple. 
Therefore the highest life of man consists in 
transforming himself into Osiris. Man be- 
comes perfect when he lives as Osiris, when 


he makes the journey that Osiris has made. 
The myth of Osiris acquires thereby a pro- 
founder meaning. The god becomes the pat- 
tern for him who seeks to awaken the Eternal 
within himself." 1 


This deification, this Osirification of the soul 
of the upright man, has always astonished the 
Egyptologists, who have not grasped its hid- 
den meaning and have not perceived that the 
soul was returning to the Vedic Nirvana of 
which it is merely the dramatized reproduc- 
tion. But there are the authentic texts, and 
even from the esoteric point of view it is not 
possible to attribute another meaning to them. 
The basis of the Egyptian religion, beneath all 
the parasitical growths of vegetation that grad- 
ually became so enormous, is really the same as 
that of the Vedic religion. Starting from the 
same point of departure in the unknowable, it 
is the worship of and the search for the god 
in man and the return of man to the godhead. 
The upright man that is, the man who all his 
life has striven to find the Eternal within him- 
self, and to give ear to its voice, when liber- 
ated from his body, does not merely become 
Osiris; but just as Osiris is other gods, so he 

1 Rudolph Steiner. Le Mysore Chretien et les Mysteres 
antiques, tr. J. Saurwein; p. 170. 


The Great Secret 

too becomes other gods. He speaks as though 
he were Ra, Turn, Set, Chnemu, Horus, and so 
forth. "Neither men nor gods, nor the spirits 
of the dead, nor men past, present, and future, 
whosoever they may be, have any further power 
to harm him." He is "He who goes forward 
in security." His name is "He that is un- 
known to men." His name is "Yesterday, that 
sees the innumerable days passing in triumph 
along the ways of heaven." "He is the lord 
of eternity. He is the master of the royal 
crown and each of his limbs is a god." 

But what happens if the sentence is not fav- 
orable, if the soul is not considered worthy 
of returning to the Eternal, of becoming once 
more the god that it was? Of this we know 
nothing. Of all that has been said in respect 
of punishments, expiations, and purifying trans- 
migration, nothing is based on any authentic 
text. "We find no trace," says Le Page Re- 
nouf, "of a conception of this kind in any of 
the Egyptian texts hitherto discovered. The 
transformations after death, we are expressly 
informed, depend solely on the will of the de- 
ceased, or of his genius." 1 That is to say, of 
his soul. Does this not also expressly tell us 

1 Le Page Renouf, op. cit.; p. 183. 
1 06 


that they depend entirely on the soul's judg- 
ment of itself, and that the soul alone knows 
and decides, like the Hindu soul burdened with 
its Karma, whether it is worthy or not to re- 
enter divinity? In other words, that there is 
no heaven or hell, except within us? 

But what becomes of it if it does not con- 
sider itself worthy of being a god? Does it 
wait, or does it undergo reincarnation? No 
Egyptian text enables us to solve the problem; 
nor is there any trace of any intermediate state 
between death and eternal beatitude. As to 
this point the funeral rites give us no hint. 
They seem to forecast for the dead man a life 
beyond the tomb, precisely resembling, on an- 
other plane, the life which he used to lead on 
earth. But these rites do not seem to refer 
to the soul properly so called, to the divine prin- 
ciple. The Egyptian religion, like other primi- 
tive religions, distinguishes three portions in 
man: first, the physical body; secondly, a per- 
ishable spiritual entity, a sort of reflection of 
the body which it survived, a shadow, or rather 
a double, which could at will confound itself 
with the mummy or detach itself therefrom; 
and, thirdly, a purely spiritual principle, the ver- 
itable and immortal soul, which, after the judg- 
ment, became a god. 

The double that left the body, but not the 

The Great Secret 

soul, which once more became Osiris, wandered 
wretchedly between the visible and the invisible 
worlds as the discarnate souls of our spiritual- 
ists appear to do unless the funeral rites came 
to its aidf leading it back to and keeping it by 
the body which it had deserted. The whole of 
this ritual sought only to prolong as far as pos- 
sible the existence of this double, by supplying 
its needs, which resembled those of its earthly 
life, by keeping it beside its incorruptible 
mummy, and tying it down to a pleasant 

The life of this double was believed to be 
very long. A tablet in the Louvre tells us, for 
example, that Psamtik, son of Ut'ahor, who 
lived in the time of the twenty-sixth dynasty, 
was a priest under three sovereigns of the Great 
Pyramid, who had been dead for more than 
two thousand years. 

This idea of the double, as Herbert Spencer 
remarks, is universal. "Everywhere we find ex- 
pressed or implied the belief that every man is 
double, and that when he dies his other self, 
whether it remains close at hand or goes far 
away, may return, and is capable of injuring 
his enemies or helping his friends." 

This Egyptian double is no other than the 
Perisprite, the astral Body, of the occultists, 
that discarnate entity, that subconscious being, 
1 08 

more or less independent of the body, that Un- 
known Guest, with whom our modern meta- 
psychists are confronted, despite themselves, 
when they come to record certain hypnotic or 
mediumistic manifestations, certain phenomena 
of telepathy, of action at a distance, of mate- 
rialization, of posthumous apparition, which 
would otherwise be all but inexplicable. Once 
again the ancient religions have here forestalled 
our science, perhaps because they saw farther 
into the future and with greater accuracy. I 
say perhaps; for if the life of the double, the 
astral body of the subconscious entity almost 
independent of the brain, can scarcely be con- 
tested when the living are concerned, it may 
still be disputed in respect of the dead. One 
thing is certain, that a number of extremely 
perplexing facts are accumulating in confirma- 
tion of this existence. It is only their inter- 
pretation that is still doubtful. But the an- 
cient Egyptian hypothesis is becoming more 
and more plausible. It refuted beforehand, 
thousands of years ago, the capital objection so 
often made to the spiritualists, when we tell 
them that their disembodied spirits are merely 
poor, incoherent, and bewildered shades, anx- 
ious before all else to establish their identity 
and to cling to their former existence ; miserable 
phantoms to whom death has revealed nothing, 

The Great Secret 

and who have nothing to tell us of their life 
beyond the tomb, a pale reflection of their pre- 
vious existence. It is, after all, quite easy to 
explain why the disembodied spirit knows no 
more than it knew during its earthly life. The 
Egyptian double, of which it is merely the rep- 
lica, was not the true soul, the immortal soul, 
which, if Amenti's judgment of it were favor- 
able, returned to the god, or rather once more 
became divine. The sepulchral rites did not 
seek to concern themselves with this soul, 
whose fate was determined by the sentence of 
Maat: they sought only to render less precari- 
ous, less pitiable, and less liable to disintegra- 
tion the posthumous life of this belated ele- 
ment, this species of spiritual husk, this ner- 
vous, magnetic or fluid phantom which was once 
a man and was now but a bundle of tenacious 
but homeless memories. By surrounding him 
with the objects of these memories they sought 
to alleviate the passage of the dead man to 
eternal forgetfulness. The Egyptians had un- 
doubtedly examined more exactly than we have 
done the evidence for the existence of this dou- 
ble, which we are barely beginning to suspect; 
for their civilization (which was the heir, for 
that matter, of long-lived antecedent civiliza- 
tions) was far more ancient than our own, and 
more inclined toward the spiritual and invisible 
sides of life. But they prejudged nothing, just 


as the spiritualistic hypothesis, if it were well 
propounded, would not involve any precon- 
ceived ideas of the destiny of the soul properly 
so called. 

The double was not subjected to any form 
of trial. Whether a man had been good or 
bad, just or unjust, he had a right to the same 
funeral ceremonies and the same life beyond 
the tomb. His punishment or reward was in 
his own self: it was, to continue to be what he 
had been; to pursue the mode of life, whether 
noble or ignoble, narrow or liberal, intelligent 
or stupid, generous or selfish, which he had lived 
on earth. 

Let us note that in our spiritualistic manifes- 
tations likewise there is no question of reward 
or punishment. Our disembodied spirits, even 
when they have been believers during life, 
hardly ever allude in any way to a posthumous 
trial, a hell, a heaven, or a purgatory; and if by 
exception they do refer to them we may almost 
certainly suspect some telepathic interpolation. 
They are, or, if you prefer it, they seem to be, 
just what they were during their lifetime : more 
or less logical, more or less cultivated, more or 
less intelligent, more or less headstrong, ac- 
cording as their ideas were more or less logical, 
or cultivated, or intelligent, or headstrong. 
They reap only what they have sown in the 
spiritual soil of this world, 

The Great Secret 

But they and this is the only difference be- 
tween them have not been subjected, like 
the Egyptian double, to the magic incantation 
which, wrongly or rightly, for weal or woe, and 
in violation of the laws of nature, bound the 
double to its physical remains, and prevented 
it from drifting like flotsam between a material 
world in which it could live no longer and a 
spiritual universe which it seemed it was for- 
bidden to enter. 


Thanks to this solicitude, thanks to this cult, 
this foresight, was the double happy? I dare 
not affirm as much. There is one terrible text 
the funeral inscription of the wife of Pasher- 
enpath which is the most heart-rending cry of 
regret and distress that the dead have ever ad- 
dressed to life. It is true that this inscription 
is of the time of the Ptolemies; that is, of the 
later Egypt corrupted by Greece, two or three 
centuries before our era. It reveals the deca- 
dence and almost the death of this Egyptian 
creed; and what is more serious and more 
alarming in speaking of Amenti it seems to 
confound the destiny of the double with that 
of the immortal soul. Here is this inscription, 
which shows us what uncertainty overtakes the 
most firmly established and most positive reli- 


gions, and how, when their course is run, they 
plunge us once more into the darkness of the 
Great Secret, into the chaos of the unknowable 
whence they emerged : 

"Oh, my brother, my husband, do not cease 
to drink, to eat, to empty the cup of joy, to 
live merrily as at a festival! Let thy desires 
lead thee, day by day, and may care never enter 
thy heart so long as thou livest upon the earth. 
For Amenti is the country of lifeless sleep and 
of darkness, a place of mourning for those who 
dwell therein. They sleep in their effigies ; they 
no longer wake to behold their brethren; they 
recognize neither their fathers nor their moth- 
ers; their hearts are indifferent to their wives 
and children. On the earth all men enjoy the 
water of life, but here thirst encompasses me. 
There is water for all who dwell upon the 
earth, but I thirst for the water which is close 
beside me. I know not where I am since I 
came hither, and I implore the running water, 
I implore the breeze upon the river bank, that 
it will assuage the soreness of my heart. For 
as for the God who is here, his name is Abso- 
lute Death. He summons all men, and all 
come to him trembling with fear. With him 
there is no respect for men or for gods; with 
him the great are as the small. One fears to 
pray to him for he does not give ear. None 
come hither to invoke him, since he shows no 

The Great Secret 

favor to those who worship him, and pays no 
heed to the offerings laid before him." 1 


And what of reincarnation? It is generally 
believed that Egypt is preeminently the land of 
palingenesis and metempsychosis. Nothing of 
the sort: not a single Egyptian text alludes to 
such matters. It is true that on becoming Osi- 
ris the soul had the power of assuming any 
shape; but this is not reincarnation properly so 
called, the expiatory and purifying reincarna- 
tion of the Hindus. All that we have been 
able to learn in this connection is based princi- 
pally on a passage of Herodotus, which ob- 
serves that "the Egyptians were the first to af- 
firm that the soul of man is immortal. Con- 
tinually, from one living creature about to die 
it passes into another in the act of birth, and 
when it has traversed the whole terrestial, 
aquatic, and aerial world, it returns once more 
to introduce itself into a human body. This cir- 
cular tour lasts for three thousand years. We 
have here a theory which various Greeks, more 
or less of our period, have appropriated to 
themselves. I know their names, but I will not 
place them on record." z 

In the same way, all that touches on the fa- 

1 Sharpe, "Egyptian Inscriptions" ; I, Plate 4. 
2 Herodotus; II, 123. 


mous mysteries of the Egyptian initiation is of 
comparatively recent origin, dating from the 
time when Alexandria was seething with the 
traditions and theories of the Hindus, Chal- 
deans, Jews, and Neoplatonists. The Egypt 
of the Pharaohs has not told us what became 
of the soul that was not beatified. It is possi- 
ble that it was obliged to return to earth in 
order to purify itself, and that the secret of this 
reincarnation was reserved for the initiates; 
just as it also is possible that texts more accu- 
rately interpreted, or others that are as yet un- 
known to us, will justify and explain the eso- 
teric tradition. For the rest, it would not be 
surprising, as Sedir, one of the most learned of 
occultists, has remarked, if some part of the 
secrets which cannot be found in those inscrip- 
tions which we imagine are completely under- 
stood, were to come to us by way of Chaldea, 
since it was among the Magi, on the banks of 
the Tigris and Euphrates, that Cambyses, after 
the conquest of Egypt, exiled all the priests of 
the latter country, without exception and with- 
out return. However this may be, I repeat 
that the purely Egyptian texts do not, for the 
time being, enable us to solve the problem. 



PERSIA will not detain us long, for its relig- 
ion is undoubtedly a reflection of Vedism, 
or, more probably, it reveals a common origin. 
Eugene Burnouf and Spiegel have indeed proved 
that certain parts of the "Avesta" are as old as 
the "Rig-Veda." 

Mazdeism or Zoroastrianism would thus ap- 
pear to be an adaptation to the Iranian mentality 
of Vedism, or of Aryan traditions (Atlantean, 
the theosophists would say) even older than 
Vedism. During the Babylonian captivity it 
permeated Chaldeism and exerted a profound 
influence on the religion of the Jewish nation. 
We owe to it, among other things as they 
found their way into the Judo-Christian tradi- 
tion, the conception of the immortality of the 
soul, the judgment of the soul, the last judg- 
ment, the resurrection of the dead, purgatory, 
the belief in the efficacy of good works as a 
means of salvation, the revocability of penalties 
and rewards, and all our angelology. 

Zoroastrianism sought to solve, more exactly 
than the other religions of antiquity, the prob- 


lem of evil, by making evil a separate god, per- 
petually warring against the good god. But 
this dualism is more apparent than real. Ahura- 
Mazda or Ormazd (Ormuz), the absolute 
and universal Being, the Word, the omnipotent 
and omniscient Spirit, the Reality, precedes and 
dominates Agra-Mainyus or Ahriman, who is 
non-Reality that is to say, he is all that is 
bad and deceptive, being in his darkness ignor- 
ant of everything; seeming as greatly inferior 
to Ormazd as the devil is to the God of the 
Christians; appearing, on the whole, merely as 
a sort of mimic, aping divinity, clumsily imita- 
ting its creations, but able to produce only 
vices, diseases and a few maleficent creatures 
who will be annihilated in the tremendous vic- 
tory of good; for the end of the world, in the 
Zoroastrian system, is but the regeneration of 
creation. However, we are not told why Or- 
mazd, the supreme god, is obliged to tolerate 
Ahriman, who, it is true, does not personify es- 
sential or absolute evil, but the evil necessary 
to good, the darkness indispensable to the mani- 
festation of light, the reaction which follows 
action, the negative principle or pole which is 
opposed to the positive, in order to assure the 
life and equilibrium of the universe. 

Moreover Ormazd himself, it seems, obeys 
necessity, or a natural law that is stronger than 
he; above all he obeys Time, whose decrees 

The Great Secret 

are Destiny, "for excepting Time," says the 
"Ulema," "all things are created, and Time is 
the Creator. Time in itself displays neither 
summit nor foundations; it has been always 
and will always be. An intelligent person will 
not ask, Whence comes Time? nor if there was 
ever a time when this power was not." * 

It would be interesting to examine this reli- 
gion from the point of view of its contribu- 
tions to Christianity, which borrowed as much 
from it as from Brahmanism and Buddhism; 
perhaps even more. We ought also to consi- 
der, if only in passing, its ethical system, which 
is one of the loftiest, purest, and most nobly 
human that we know of. But this examination 
would exceed the scope of our inquiry. We 
owe to ancient Persia, for example, the won- 
derful conception of the conscience, a sort of 
divine power, existing from all eternity, inde- 
pendent of the material body, taking no part 
in the errors which it sees committed, remain- 
ing pure amid the worst aberrations, and ac- 
companying the soul of man after his death. 
And the soul of the upright man, when crossing 
the bridge Tchinvat, or the bridge of Retribu- 
tion, sees advancing to meet it a young girl of 
miraculous beauty. "Who art thou?" demands 
the astonished soul; "thou who seemest to me 
more beautiful and more magnificent than any 

1 J. Darmesteter, Ormazd et Ahriman; p. 320. 



of the daughters of earth?" And his con- 
science replies : "I am thine own works. I am 
the incarnation of thy good thoughts, words, 
and actions: I am the incarnation of thy faith 
and piety." 

On the other hand, if it be a sinner who is 
crossing the bridge of retribution, his con- 
science comes to meet him in a horrible shape, 
although in herself she does not change, but 
merely shows herself to man as he deserves to 
see her. This allegory, which might well be 
drawn from a collection of Christian parables, 
is perhaps 5000 to 6000 years old, and is 
merely a dramatic expression of the Hindu 
Karma. Here again, as in the tradition of 
Karma and that of the Osirification of the soul, 
it is the soul that is its own judge. 

We owe likewise to Mazdeism the subtle and 
mysterious conception of the Fravashis or Fe- 
rohers which the cabala borrowed from Persia, 
and which Hebraic mysticism and Christianity 
have made into angels, and more particularly 
guardian angels. This conception implies the 
preexistence of the soul. The Ferohers are the 
spiritual form of being, independent of ma- 
terial life and preceding it. Ormazd offers to 
the Ferohers of men the choice of remaining in 
the spiritual world or of descending to earth 
to be embodied in human flesh. It was proba- 
ble from prototypes of this kind that Plato de- 

The Great Secret 

rived his theory of "ideas," supposing that 
everything has a double life, first in thought 
and secondly in reality. 

Let me add that a phenomenon analogous to 
that which we have already found at work in 
India is here seen to repeat itself: what was 
public and obvious in Mazdeism gradually be- 
came secret and was reserved solely for those 
initiated into what the Greeks and the Jews 
(especially in their cabala) had borrowed from 




/^HALDEA that is to say, Babylonia and 
\^4 Assyria is, like Persia, the land of the 
Magi and is commonly regarded as the classic 
home of occultism; but here again, as we saw in 
the case of Egypt, the legend is hardly in agree- 
ment with the historic reality. 

It seems a priori that Chaldea should pos- 
sess a peculiar interest for us; not because it 
is likely to teach us anything that we have not 
learned from India, Egypt, or Persia, to which 
it was tributary, but because it was probably 
the principal source of the cabala, which was 
itself the great fountainhead from which the 
occultism of the middle ages, as it has come 
down to us, was fed. 

It was hoped that the discovery of the key 
to the cuneiform inscriptions a discovery 
scarcely more than fifty years old, and the 
deciphering of the inscriptions of Nineveh and 
Babylon, would result in valuable revelations 
concerning the mysteries of the Chaldean reli- 
gion. But these inscriptions, which date from 
2000, 3750, and in one instance (preserved in 

The Great Secret 

the British Museum) 4000 years before Christ, 
and whose interpretation moreover is far more 
uncertain and controversial than that of the 
hieroglyphs or the Sanskrit texts, have yielded 
us only royal biographies, inventories of con- 
quests, incantatory formulas, litanies, and 
psalms which served as models for the Hebrew 
psalms. From these we perceive that the 
basis of the very primitive religion of the Su- 
mirs or Sumerians and the Accads or Acca- 
dians who peopled lower Chaldea before the 
Semitic conquest was one of magic and sorcery. 
This was followed by a naturalistic polytheism, 
which the conquering Semites, less civilized 
than those whom they had conquered, adopted 
in part, until, about two thousand years before 
our era, having won the upper hand, they grad- 
ually reduced the primitive gods to the rank 
of mere attributes of Baal, the supreme divi- 
nity, the sun-god. 

These inscriptions, then, have taught us noth- 
ing concerning the secret if there is a secret 
of the Chaldean religion, and have not con- 
tributed anything of any value to the informa- 
tion already in our possession, thanks to cer- 
tain fragments of Berosus, whose accuracy they 
have more than once enabled us to verify. 

Berosus, as the reader may remember, was a 
Chaldean astromer, a priest of Belus in Baby- 
lon, who about the year 280 B. c. shortly, 


that, is, after the death of Alexander wrote 
in Greek a history of his country. As he could 
read cuneiform characters he was able to profit 
by the archives of the temple of Babylon. Un- 
fortunately the work of Berosus is almost en- 
tirely lost; all that is left of it is a few frag- 
ments collected by Josephus, Eusebius, Tatian, 
Pliny, Vitruvius, and Seneca. This loss is all 
the more regrettable in that Berosus, who seems 
to have been a serious and conscientious his- 
torian, declared that he had had access to doc- 
uments attributed to the beings who preceded 
the appearance of man on the earth; and his 
history, according to Eusebius, covered 2,150,- 
ooo years. We have also lost his cosmogony, 
and with it all the astronomical and astrologi- 
cal science of Chaldea, which was the great 
secret of the Babylonian Magi, whose zodiac 
dates back 6700 years. We have only the 
treatise known as "Observations of Bel," trans- 
lated into Greek by Berosus, though the 
text that has come down to us is of much later 

The few pages that are all that is left us of 
the Chaldean cosmology contain a sort of anti- 
cipation of the Darwinian theories of the origin 
of the world and of man. The first god and 
the first man were a fish-god and a fish-man 
which is, by the way, confirmed by embry- 
ology born of the vast cosmic ocean; and na- 

The Great Secret 

ture, when she attempted to create, produced 
at first anomalous monsters unable to repro- 
duce themselves. As for their astrology, ac- 
cording to Professor Sayce, the learned profes- 
sor of Assyriology at Oxford, it seems to be 
chiefly based on the axiom, post hoc ergo prop- 
ter hoc; which is to say that when two events oc- 
cur in sequence the second is regarded as the re- 
sult of the first; hence the care with which the 
astrologers used to observe celestial pheno- 
mena in order that they might empirically fore- 
tell the future. 

To sum up, we are very imperfectly ac- 
quainted with the official religion of Assyria 
and Babylonia, whose gods appear to be rather 
barbaric. This religion does not become more 
enlightened or more interesting until after the 
conquest of Cyrus, which brought into the coun- 
try the Zoroastrian and Hindu doctrines, or 
confirmed and completed those that had, in all 
probability, already found their way into the 
secrecy of the temples; for Chaldea had al- 
ways been the great crossroads on which the 
theologies of India, Egypt, and Persia were 
of necessity wont to meet. Thus it was that 
these doctrines found their way into the Bible 
and the cabala, and thence into Christianity. 

But as far as the origin of religion is con- 
cerned, we must admit that the authentic docu- 
ments recently discovered teach us virtually 


nothing, and that all that has been said of the 
esoterism and the mysteries of Chaldea is based 
merely upon legends or writings that are no- 
toriously apocryphal. 




TO complete this brief survey of the primi- 
tive religions this inquiry into the ori- 
gins of the Great Secret we must not over- 
look the pre-Socratic theogony. 

Before the classic period the Greek philoso- 
phers, of whose works we possess only muti- 
lated fragments Pythagoras, Petronius Hip- 
pasus, Xenophanes, Anaximander, Anaximenes, 
Heraclitus, Alcmaeon, Parmenides of Elea, Leu- 
cippus, Democritus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, 
were already in the ridiculous and uncomfor- 
table situation in which the Hebrew cabalists 
and the occultists of the middle ages found 
themselves about fifteen to twenty centuries 
later. They seem, like the latter, to have had 
a presentiment of the existence, or the dim tra- 
dition, of a religion more ancient and of a 
nobler character than their own, which had re- 
plied, or had endeavored to reply, to all the 
anxious questions as to divinity, the origin and 
the purpose of the world, eternal Becoming 
and impassive Being; the passage from chaos 
to the cosmos; the emergence from the vast 

Greece Before Socrates 

sum of things and the return thereto; spirit and 
substance, good and evil; the birth of the uni- 
verse and its end; attraction and repulsion; 
fate; man's place in the universe and his des- 

Above all, this lost tradition, which we found 
in India all but intact, marks once for all the 
divorce between the knowable and the unknow- 
able; and, attributing the lion's share to the 
latter, it had the courage to implant in the very 
heart of its doctrine a tremendous confession 
of ignorance. 

But the Greeks do not seem to have realized 
the existence of this confession, simple, definite, 
and profound though it was, albeit it would 
have saved them a great deal of vain inquiry; 
or else, their intellect subtle, more active, 
more enterprising than ours was unwilling to 
admit it; and all their cosmogony, their theog- 
ony, and their metaphysics are merely an in- 
cessant endeavor to belittle it, by subdividing 
it, by triturating it ad infinitum, as though they 
hoped that, by dint of diminishing each separate 
particle of the unknowable, they would even- 
tually succeed in learning all about it. 

What a curious spectacle it is, that of this 
contest of the Greek intellect lucid, exacting, 
fidgety, eager to obtain a clear idea of every- 
thing with the imposing though often extrav- 
agant obscurities of the Asiatic religions! It 

The Great Secret 

has been said that the Greeks had no concep- 
tion of the divine Absolute; and this is true, but 
of a later period. In the beginning their con- 
ceptions, as yet under the influence of myste- 
rious traditions, were completely permeated by 
this sense of the Absolute, which had often led 
them, by the paths of reason alone, far higher, 
and perhaps nearer to the truth, than their 
more capable successors who had lost it. 

But without speaking in detail of their grop- 
ings after a light of which they had some vague 
intuition, or which was buried deep in the an- 
cestral memory or in myths which were no 
longer understood; without specifying the con- 
tribution of each of the Greek philosophers, 
which would involve explanations interesting 
enough but of disproportionate length, we shall 
merely note the essential points of agreement 
with the Vedic and Brahman theories. 

Xenophanes the first, unlike the poets, af- 
firmed the existence of a sole, immutable, and 
eternal god. "God," he said, "is not born, for 
He could not be born save of His like, or of 
His contrary; two hypotheses of which the first 
is futile, and the second absurd. One cannot 
call Him infinite, nor yet finite; for if infinite, 
having neither middle nor beginning nor end, 
He would be nothing at all; and if finite He 

Greece Before Socrates 

would be encompassed by limitations and would 
cease to be One. For like reasons He is nei- 
ther at rest nor in movement. In short, one 
cannot attribute to Him any characteristics but 
negative ones." * This is really tantamount to 
admitting, in other words, that He is as un- 
knowable as the First Cause of the Hindus. 

This acceptance of the Unknowable is more 
clearly formulated by Xenophanes in another 

"No one understands, no one ever will under- 
stand, the truth concerning the gods and the 
things which I teach. If any one did happen to 
come upon the absolute truth he would never be 
aware of the encounter. Nowhere do we find 
anything more than probability." 

Might we not repeat to-day what the 
founder of the Eleatic school affirmed more 
than twenty-five centuries ago? Was there, 
here, as elsewhere, an infiltration of the primi- 
tive tradition? It is probable; in any case, the 
filiation is clearly proved in other particulars. 
The Orphics whom we find at the legendary 
and prehistoric source of Hellenic poetry and 
philosophy were really, according to Herodo- 
tus, Egyptians. 2 We have seen, on the other 
hand, that the Egyptian religion and the Vedic 
religion have probably a common origin, and 

1 Albert Rivaud, Le Probleme du Devinir; p. io3, 
zperodotus; II, 81. 


The Great Secret 

that it is for the moment impossible to say 
which is the more ancient. Now the Pythago- 
reans borrowed from the Orphics the wander- 
ings of the soul and the series of purifications. 
Others have taken from them the myth of 
Dionysus, with all its consequences; for Diony- 
sus, the child-god, slain by the Titans, whose 
heart Athene saved by hiding it in a basket, and 
who was brought to life again by Jupiter, is 
Osiris, Krishna, Buddha; he is all the divine 
incarnations; he is the god who descends into 
or rather manifests himself, in man; he is 
Death, temporary and illusory, and rebirth, ac- 
tual and immortal; he is the temporary union 
with the divine that is but the prelude to the 
final union, the endless cycle of the eternal 


Heraclitus, who was regarded as the philoso- 
pher of the mysteries, explains the nature of 
this cycle. "On the periphery of the circle 
the beginning and the end are one." * "Divin- 
ity is itself," says Auguste Dies, "the origin 
and the end of the individual life. Unity is 
divided into plurality and plurality is resolved 
into unity, but unity and plurality are contem- 
poraneous, and the emanation from the 
bosom of the divine is accompanied by an 

1 Heraclitus, 102. 


Greece Before Socrates 

incessant return to divinity." 1 All comes 
from God, all returns to God; all becomes 
one, one becomes all. God, or the world, is 
one : the divine idea is diffused through every 
quarter of the universe. In a word, the sys- 
tem of Heraclitus, like that of the "Vedas" and 
the Egyptians, is a Unitarian pantheism. 

In Empedocles, who follows Xenophanes and 
Parmenides, we find, in the province of cos- 
mology, the Hindu theory of the expansion and 
contraction of the universe, of the god who 
breathes it in and breathes it out, of alternative 
externalization and internalization. 

"In the beginning the elements are inextri- 
cably mingled in the absolute immobility of the 
Spheres. But when the force of repulsion, af- 
ter remaining inactive on the external circum- 
ference, has resumed its movement toward the 
center, separation begins. It would proceed to 
absolute division and dispersal of the individ- 
ual, were it not that an opposing force reas- 
sembles the scattered elements until the primi- 
tive unity is gradually reconstructed." 2 

The Greek genius, of which we have here an 
interesting example, seeks as far as possible to 
explain the inexplicable, whereas the Hindu gen- 
ius contents itself with feeling it as something 
majestic and awe-inspiring, calls the force of 

1 Auguste Dies, Le Cycle Mystique; p. 62. 

2 Ibid.; pp. 84-85. 


The Great Secret 

repulsion hatred; the force of attraction, af- 
fection. These forces exist from all eternity. 
"They were, they will be, and never, to my 
thinking, will unending time contrive to throw 
them off. Now plurality resolves, by the aid 
of love, into unity; and now unity, in hatred 
and strife, divides itself into plurality." 

But whence comes this duality in unity? 
Whence arise the opposing principles of attrac- 
tion and repulsion, of hatred and love? Em- 
pedocles and his school do not tell us. They 
merely state that in division, repulsion, or ha- 
tred there is decadence, but in attraction, in the 
return to unity and love, there is ascent or 
reascent; and thus the Hindus referred the idea 
of decadence or downfall to matter, and the 
idea of reascension and return to divinity, to 
the spirit. The confession of ignorance is the 
same, and so is the means of emerging from 
hatred and escaping from matter. In the first 
place there is purification during life, a puri- 
fication entirely spiritual. "Blessed is he," 
says the philosopher Agrigentes, "who acquires 
a treasury of divine ideas; but woe to him who 
has but a hazy conception of the gods." 

Here again and above all we have purifica- 
tion by successive reincarnations. Empedocles 
goes further than the Vedic religion, which con- 
firms itself at all events until Manu's time to 
the reincarnation of man in man. He, like the 

Greece Before Socrates 

Pythagoreans, accepts metempsychosis : that is, 
the passing of the soul into animals, and even 
into plants, whereby it is led by a series of 
ascents, back to the divinity from which it 
emerged, and into which it enters and is reab- 
sorbed, as into the Hindu Nirvana. 


It is perhaps of interest in this respect to 
note that, as in the Vedic and Egyptian doc- 
trine, there is no question of external rewards 
and punishments. In the pre-Socratic metem- 
psychosis, as in Hindu reincarnation and before 
the tribunal of Osiris, the soul judges itself and 
automatically, so to speak, awards itself the 
happiness or the misery which is its right. 
There is no enraged and vengeful deity, no 
special place of damnation set aside for mis- 
creants, or for expiation. We do not expiate 
our sins after death, because there is no death. 
We expiate them only in our lifetime, by our 
lives: or rather there is no expiation; only the 
scales fall from our eyes. The soul is happy 
or unhappy because it does or does not feel 
that it is in its proper place; because it can or 
cannot attain the height which it hoped to con- 
quer. It is aware of its divinity only in so far 
as it has understood or understands God. 
Stripped of all that was material, all that had 
blinded it, it perceives itself suddenly on the 

The Great Secret 

farther shore, just as it was, though un- 
known to itself, on the hither side. Of all its 
possessions, of its happiness or its fame, noth- 
ing is left but its intellectual and moral ac- 
quisitions. For in itself it is nothing more 
than the thoughts which have possessed it and 
the virtues which it has practised. It sees it- 
self as it is, and catches a glimpse of what it 
might have been; and if it is not satisfied it 
tells itself, "It must all be done over again"; 
and of its own free will it returns to life, aim- 
ing at a higher mark and reemerging happier 
and of greater stature. 


On the whole, in the theology and the myths 
of the pre-Socratic period, as in the theologies 
and the myths of the religions which preceded 
them, there is no hell and no heaven. In the 
underground caverns of hades, as in the mead- 
ows of the Elysian fields, there are only the 
phantoms, the astral manes, the Egyptian dou- 
bles, the inconsistent relics of our discarnate 
shades. The instruments of their torment or 
the accessories of their pale felicity are but 
evidence of identity, by the aid of which, like 
the vague interlocutors of our spiritualists, 
they seek to make themselves known. Here, 
just as in India, hell is not a place but a state 

Greece Before Socrates 

of the soul after death. The manes are not 
chastised in a place of semi-darkness ; they sim- 
ply continue to live there by the reflection of 
their former lives. There Tantalus is always 
thirsty; there Sisyphus rolls his rock; there the 
Danaides exhaust themselves in seeking to fill 
their bottomless measure ; there Achilles brand- 
ishes his lance, Ulysses bears his oar, and Her- 
cules draws his bow; their vain effigies repeat 
to infinity the memorable or habitual actions of 
their lives on earth ; but the imperishable spirit, 
the immortal soul is not there; it is purifying 
itself elsewhere, in another body; it is advanc- 
ing upon the long invisible path which leads it 
back to God. 

At this stage, as in all remote beginnings, 
there is as yet no fear of death and the be- 
yond. This fear does not manifest itself or de- 
velop in the great religions until the latter be- 
gin to be corrupted for the benefit of priests 
and kings. The intuition and intelligence of 
mankind have never again reached the height 
which they attained when they conceived the 
ideal of divinity of which we find the most 
authentic traces in the Vedic traditions. One 
might say that in those days man disclosed, at 
the topmost height of his stature, and there es- 
tablished, once for all, that conception of the 
divine which he subsequently forgot and fre- 
quently degraded; but despite oblivion and 

The Great Secret 

ephemeral perversion, its light was never lost. 
And that is why we feel, beneath all these 
myths, behind all these doctrines, which are 
sometimes so contradictory, the same optimism, 
or at all events the same ignorant confidence; 
for the(most ancient secret of mankind is really 
a blind, stupendous confidence in the divinity 
from which it emerged without ceasing to 
form part of it and to which it will one day re- 

There are still many points of contact which 
might well be singled out; for example, the 
atomic theory, which contains some extraordi- 
nary instances of intuition. Leucippus and De- 
mocritus in particular taught that the gyra- 
tory movement of the spheres exists from all 
eternity, and Anaxagoras developed the theory 
of elemental vortices which the science of our 
own days is rediscovering. But what we have 
just recorded will doubtless appear sufficient. 
For the rest, in this philosophy, which is only 
too generally regarded as a tissue of absurdities 
and puerile speculations, we are dealing with 
most of the great mysteries that perplex hu- 
manity. On examining it more closely we find 
in it some of the most wonderful efforts of hu- 
man reason, which, secretly sustained by the 
truth contained in certain cloudy myths, ap- 
proaches the probable and the plausible more 
closely than most of our modern theories. 

Greece Before Socrates 

We may suppose that the most important 
parts of this theosophy and philosophy, namely, 
those which treated of the Supreme Cause and 
the Unknowable, were gradually neglected and 
forgotten by the classic theosophy and philos- 
ophy, and became, as in Egypt and India, the 
secret of the hierophants, forming, together 
with more direct oral traditions, the founda- 
tions of the famous Greek mysteries, and no- 
tably of the Eleusinian mysteries, whose veil 
has never been pierced. 

Here again the last word of the great secret 
must have been the confession of an invincible 
and inviolable ignorance. At all events, what- 
ever negative and unknowable elements may 
already have existed in the myths and the philos- 
ophy of which he was constantly being re- 
minded, they were enough to destroy, for the 
initiate, the gods adored by the vulgar, while 
at the same time he came to understand why 
a doctrine so perilous for those who were not 
in a position to realize its exalted nature had 
to remain occult. There was probably no more 
than this in the supreme revelation, because 
there is probably no other secret that man 
might conceive or possess; that there never can 
have existed, nor ever will exist, a formula that 
will give us the key of the universe. 

The Great Secret 

But apart from this confession, which must 
have seemed overwhelming, or of the nature of 
a release, in accordance with the quality of the 
recipient's mind, it is probable that the neo- 
phyte was initiated into an occult science of a 
more positive nature, such as that possessed by 
the Egyptian and Hindu priests. Above all, he 
must have been taught the methods of attain- 
ing to union with the divine, or to immersion in 
the divine by means of ecstasy or trance. It is 
permissible to suppose that this ecstasy was ob- 
tained by the aid of hypnotic methods; but these 
methods were those of a hypnotism far more 
expert and more fully developed than our own, 
in which hypnotism properly so called, magne- 
tism, mediumship, spiritualism, and all the mys- 
terious forces odic and otherwise of the sub- 
conscious self, which were then more fully un- 
derstood than they are to-day, were commingled 
and set to work. 

The writer whom many persons regard as 
the greatest theosophist of our day Rudolph 
Steiner professes, as we shall see later on, to 
have rediscovered the means, or one of the 
means, of producing this ecstasy, and of plac- 
ing one's self in communication with higher 
spheres of existence, and with God. 


Greece Before Socrates 


From the foregoing we may, so it seems, con- 
clude that the higher initiates, or, to speak more 
precisely, the adepts of the esoteric religions, 
of the colleges of priests or the occult frater- 
nities, did not know very much more concern- 
ing the beginning and the end of the universe, 
the unknowable nature of the First Cause, the 
father of the gods, and the duties and desti- 
nies of mankind, than that which the great prim- 
itive religions had taught, openly and to those 
who were capable of understanding it. They 
did not know more for the reason that as yet 
it was not possible to know more, or conse- 
quently to teach more. If they had known 
anything further we too should know it; for it 
is hardly conceivable that the gist of such a se- 
cret should not have transpired if so many thou- 
sands of men had known it for so many thou- 
sands of years. If it were possible to imagine 
that such a secret existed and that we could 
understand it, in understanding it we should no 
longer be men. There are limits to knowledge 
which the brain has not yet passed, and which 
it never will be able to pass without ceasing to 
be human. At most the confessions of irredu- 
cible agnosticism and absolute pantheism, 
which are the two poles between which the 
loftiest human thought has always hesitated, is 
hesitating now, and in all probability will al- 

The Great Secret 

ways hesitate, might have been more definite, 
more clearly expressed, less wrapped in formal- 
ities, and more complete, and might have put 
those who received it on their guard against 
the fallacious appearances and the necessary 
lies of the official theogonies and mythologies. 


Still, at a certain level there was no esoteric 
cosmogony, theogony, or theology, no secret 
code of morality. In this connection, as we 
have just seen, the primitive religions left noth- 
ing unexplored; not so much as a shadowy 
corner where the lovers of mystery, the inves- 
tigators of the unknown might take refuge. 
Their ethic is from the first or seems to be 
from the first, for we know nothing of the 
thousands of years during which it was elabo- 
rated the loftiest and most perfect that any 
man could hope to practise. It has passed 
through every ordeal, has attempted and 
climbed every mountain in its way. Where it 
has passed and it has passed everywhere, and 
above all over the most rugged pinnacles-^- 
nothing is left to be gleaned. We are still 
hundreds of centuries beneath its attainments 
on the heights of abregation, good-will, pity, 
self-sacrifice, and absolute self-devotion; and 
most of all in the search for what Novalis 

Greece Before Socrates 

called "our transcendental me" that is the 
divine and eternal part of our being. 

As for the sanctions, they too went to the 
extreme, the utmost that the mind can conceive ; 
for, emanating from the Unknowable, they 
could not, without contradiction, attribute to 
this Unknowable any sort of will whatever. 
They were consequently bound to place within 
us the rewards and punishments of a system of 
morality which could only have come into being 
within us. Here again there was not the least 
room for any occult doctrine. 

There remains the riddle of the origin of 
evil, the apparent antagonism of spirit and mat- 
ter, the necessity of sacrifice, pain, and expia- 
tion. Here again, under pain of contradiction, 
the occult tradition could not base anything on 
the unknowable. It had simply to admit, pro- 
visionally, the least material explanation of the 
esoteric religions, which regard matter and 
darkness, division and separation, not as evil 
in themselves, but as transitory states of the 
one and eternal substance, a phase of the un- 
ending flux and reflux of Becoming, from which 
one should strive to emerge as quickly as might 
be, in order to attain the spiritual state or 
phase. In this connection it had not, and of 
course, could not have had a more satisfying 
doctrine. In any case no echo of such doctrine 
has come down to us, and it is probable that it 

once more- contented itself with emphasizing 
the confusion of its invincible ignorance. 


Here then are the points and they are the 
most important on which the esoteric doctrine, 
if there was in the beginning such a doctrine, 
must necessarily be confounded with the public 
teaching of the primitive religions if considered 
fairly near their origin. It is probable, as I 
have already said, that this teaching did not 
assume a secret character until very much later, 
when the official religions were extraordinarily 
complicated and profoundly corrupted. Eso- 
terism was then but a return to the original 
purity, just as in Greece the pre-Socratic doc- 
trines which were, whatever may have been 
said of them, obviously of Asiatic origin be- 
came the teachings of the mysteries. It is 
therefore all but certain that the occultists of all 
times and nations knew as little of them as we 
do. But there are other spheres in which they 
seem to have had traditions which the official 
religions do not appear to have handed down 
to us, and whose secret the successors of the 
great adepts of India, Egypt, Persia, Chaldea, 
and Greece, with the cabalists, the Neoplato- 
nists, the Gnostics, and the Hermetics of the 
middle ages, have more or less unsuccessfully 
sought to recover. 

Greece Before Socrates 


This province is that of the unknown forces 
of nature. We can hardly dispute the fact that 
the priests of India and Egypt, and the Magi 
of Persia and Chaldea, had a knowledge of 
chemistry, physics, astronomy, and medicine 
which we have undoubtedly surpassed in cer- 
tain respects, but in others we are perhaps very 
far from having caught up with them. With- 
out recalling here the blocks of stone weighing 
1500 tons, transported by unknown means over 
enormous distances, or the rocking-stones, 
masses of rock weighing five hundred tons, 
which were never native to the soil upon which 
they now rest, and which date from the pre- 
historic era of the Atlanteans, it is an un- 
doubted fact that the great pyramid of Cheops, 
for example, is a sort of stupendous hiero- 
glyph, which, by its dimensions, its proportions, 
its internal arrangements, and its astronomical 
orientation, propounds a whole series of 
riddles of which only the most obvious have 
hitherto been deciphered. An occult tradition 
had always affirmed that this pyramid con- 
tained essential secrets, but only quite recently 
has any one begun to discover them. Abbe 
Moreux, the learned director of the Bourges 
Observatory, giving a complete summary of the 
question in his Enigmas de la S-cience, 1 shows us 

The Great Secret 

that the meridian of the pyramid the line run- 
ing north and south passing through its apex 
is the ideal meridian; that is, it is that which 
crosses the greatest amount of land and the 
smallest amount of sea, and if we calculate ex- 
actly -the area of habitable territories, it will 
be found to divide them into two strictly equal 
halves. On the other hand, if we multiply the 
height of the pyramid by one million, we obtain 
the distance from the earth to the sun, or 
198,208,000 kilometers, which is, within about 
one million kilometers, the distance which mod- 
ern science has finally adopted, after long re- 
search and dangerous expeditions to distant 
lands, and thanks to the progress of celestial 

The well-known astronomer Clark has calcu- 
lated, from recent measurements, the polar ra- 
dius of the earth. He makes it 6,356,521 
meters. Now this is precisely the cubit of the 
pyramid-builders, or 0.6336321 meters, multi- 
plied by ten millions. Next, on dividing the 
side of the pyramid by the cubit used in its 
construction, we have the length of the side- 
real year; that is, the time which the sun re- 
quires to return to the same point in the sky. 
Then, if we multiply the pyramid-builders' 
inch by one hundred millions, we shall obtain 
the distance which the earth travels in its orbit 

1 P. 5. et seq. 


Greece Before Socrates 

in one day of twenty-four hours, the approxi- 
mation being closer than our modern measures 
the yard or the meter would permit of our 
making. Lastly, the entrance-passage of the 
pyramid pointed toward the pole star of the 
period; it must therefore have been orientated 
with reference to the precession of the equi- 
noxes, according to which phenomenon the 
celestial pole returns, coinciding with the same 
stars, after the lapse of 25,796 years. 

We see, then, that, as Abbe Moreaux tells 
us, "all these conquests of modern science are 
found in the Great Pyramid in the form of 
natural dimensions, measured, and always capa- 
ble of measurement, needing only opportunity 
to shine forth in broad daylight with the met- 
rical meaning contained in them. 

It is impossible to attribute these extraor- 
dinary data to mere coincidence. They prove 
that the Egyptian priests, in geography, mathe- 
matics, geometry, and astronomy, possessed 
knowledge that we are barely beginning to re- 
conquer, and there is nothing to tell us that 
this enigmatic pyramid does not contain a host 
of other secrets which we have not yet dis- 
covered. But the strangest, most disconcert- 
ing fact is that none of the innumerable hiero- 
glyphs that have been deciphered, nothing, in- 
deed, to be found in the whole literature of 
ancient Egypt, makes any allusion to this ex- 

The Great Secret 

traordinary knowledge. It is obvious even 
that the priests sought to conceal it; the sacred 
or pyramidal cubit, the key to all scientific meas- 
urements and calculations, was not employed 
in every-day use; and all this miraculous knowl- 
edge, coming whence no one knows, was deliber- 
ately and systematically buried in a tomb and 
propounded as a riddle or a challenge to the 
future centuries. Does not the revelation of 
such a mystery, due merely to chance, permit 
us to suspect that many other mysteries of vari- 
ous sorts are awaiting the hazard of a similar 
revelation, in the same pyramid or in other 
monuments or in the sacred writings? 

In the meantime it is, after all, highly prob- 
able that the Egyptian priests taught the Magi 
of Chaldea the secret of what Eliphas Levi 
calls u a transcendental pyrotechnics," and that 
both were acquainted with electricity and had 
means of producing and directing it as yet un- 
known to us. Pliny, in fact, tells us that 
Numa, who was initiated into the mysteries of 
the Magi, understood the art of creating and 
directing the lightning, and that he success- 
fully employed his terrible battery against a 
monster known as Volta, which was devastat- 
ing the Roman Campagna. Forestalling the 
invention of the telephone, the Egyptian priests 
were able, we are told, to send instantaneous 
messages from temple to temple, no matter 

Greece Before Socrates 

what the distance. For that matter, the Bible 
testifies to their knowledge and power when it 
shows them, in the midst of the ten plagues, 
which were only works of magic, fighting Moses 
by means of miracles, Moses himself being one 
of their initiates. 


But it is more especially in connection with 
the subconscious, with mysteries of the Un- 
known Guest, and what we to-day call abnor- 
mal psychology; with the astral body, hypno- 
tism, and spiritualism; with the properties of 
the ether, and of unknown fluids; with odylic 
medicine, hyper-chemistry, survival, and the 
knowledge of the future, that they must have 
possessed secrets to discover which the Her- 
metics of the middle ages wore themselves out 
amid their pentacles, their cryptograms, and 
their books of spells, corrupted and incompre- 
hensible. It is apparently in these regions of 
occultism that there is something left for us to 
glean; and it is to them that our metaphysics is 
turning back, though by other roads. 

It is likewise in these obscure regions that 
the last initiates of India, the heirs to the eso- 
teric traditions, excel us so greatly in knowl- 
edge, producing those strange phenomena 
which cannot always be sufficiently explained 

The Great Secret 

by trickery and conjuring, and which astonish 
the most skeptical, the most suspicious of trav- 

Have they in reserve, as they claim, yet other 
secrets, notably those that enable them to 
manipulate certain terrible and irresistible 
forces, such as the intra-molecular energy, or 
the formidable and inexhaustible forces of 
gravitation, or of the ether? This is possible, 
but less certain. It is rather difficult to under- 
stand why, in cases of urgency, when there 
has been a question of life or death, they have 
never resorted to them. India, like Egypt, 
Persia, and Chaldea, has suffered terrible in- 
vasions which not only threatened her civiliza- 
tion, destroyed her wealth, burned her sacred 
books, and massacred her inhabitants, but also 
attacked her gods, violated her temples, and 
exterminated her priests. Yet we do not dis- 
cover that she ever turned a supernatural 
weapon against her aggressors. It may be ob- 
jected that because of the enormous expanse 
of the territories invaded the invasions were 
never complete; that the last initiates might 
have fled before them, taking refuge in inac- 
cessible mountains; moreover that as their king- 
dom was not of this world they did not feel 
that they had the right to employ their super- 
terrestial powers, for a fundamental axiom of 
the highest knowledge forbids its employment 

Greece Before Socrates 

in pursuit of material profit; and this too is 
possible. It is none the less a fact that the 
British domination of Tibet, and above all 
the entry into that country of Colonel Young- 
husband's expedition, struck a very palpable 
blow at the prestige of their occult knowledge. 


Until 1904, in fact, the occultists had re- 
garded Tibet as the last refuge of their sci- 
ence. In Tibet, according to them, there were 
vast underground libraries, containing innumer- 
able books, of which some dated back to the 
prehistoric times of the Atlanteans; and in these 
the supreme and immemorial revelations were 
recorded in tongues known only to a few adepts. 
In the heart of her lamaseries, swarming with 
thousands of monks, Tibet maintained a college 
of superior initiates, at the head of which was 
the initiate of initiates, the incarnation of God 
on earth, the dalai-lama. 

No European, it was said, had ever violated 
the sacred territory of Tibet; which, by the 
way, was not quite correct, for in 1661, in 
1715, and in 1719 two or three Jesuits and a 
few Capuchins had found their way into the 
country. In 1760 a Dutch traveler made a 
stay in Lhasa, and in 1813 an Englishman. 
Then, in 1846, the missionaries Hue and Gobet, 
disguised as lamas, contrived to slip into the 

The Great Secret 

country. But since then, despite many perilous 
attempts, of which the latest and best known 
was that of Sven Hedin, no explorer had suc- 
ceeded in reaching the holy city. One may say, 
therefore, that of all the countries in the world 
Tibet was the most mysterious, the most illu- 

On the announcement of the sacrilegious ex- 
pedition strange happenings were anticipated by 
the world of occultists. I remember the con- 
fidence, the serene certainty with which one 
of the sincerest and most learned of them told 
me, early in the year 1904: "They do not 
know what they are attacking. They are 
about to provoke, in this place of refuge, the 
most terrible powers. It is virtually certain 
that the last of the trans-Himalayan adepts 
possess the secret of the formidable etheric 
or sidereal force, the mash-maket of the At- 
lanteans, the irresistible vril of which Bulwer- 
Lytton speaks: that vibratory force which, ac- 
cording to information contained in the 'Astra- 
Vidya/ can reduce a hundred thousand men and 
elephants to ashes as easily as it would reduce 
a dead rat to powder. Extraordinary things 
are about to happen. They will never reach 
the inviolable Potala !" 

And what happened? Nothing whatever; 
at least, nothing of what was anticipated. 
After long diplomatic negotiations, in which 

Greece Before Socrates 

the incapacity, unintelligence, senility, and bad 
faith of the Chinese, and the childish cunning 
of the college of lamas were revealed in a 
most disconcerting fashion, Colonel Young- 
husband's force, consisting chiefly of Sikhs and 
Gurkhas, proceeded to enter the country. In 
those rugged regions, the most inhospitable in 
the world, on the high frozen plateaus of the 
Himalayas, desolate and uninhabitable, they 
had to overcome unheard-of difficulties; and 
in passes which a handful of men, under good 
leadership, would have rendered unassailable, 
they were met more than once by the unskil- 
ful though courageous resistance of the dalai- 
lama's soldiery, filled with fanatical valor by 
the mantras and spells of their priests, but 
armed with match-locks and inferior native 
artillery. At length the British force drew 
near to Lhasa ; and for five days the distracted 
abbots of the great monasteries solemnly 
cursed the invaders, set thousands of prayer- 
wheels turning, and resorted to the supreme 
incantations: all to no avail. On August 9 
Colonel Younghusband made his entry into the 
capital of Tibet, and occupied the holy of 
holies, the house of God, the Potala; an im- 
mense and fantastic structure which soars up- 
wards from the hovels of the city, resembling, 
with its terraces, its flat roofs, and its but- 
tresses, a fortress, a piled-up mass of Italian 

The Great Secret 

villas, a barracks with innumerable windows, 
and certain American sky-scrapers. The dalai- 
lama, the thirteenth incarnation of divinity, 
the Buddhist pope, the spiritual father of six 
hundred millions of souls, had shamefully taken 
to flight and made good his escape. The con- 
vents and sanctuaries, swarming with monks 
there were more than thirty thousand of 
them, indifferent and resigned were explored; 
but nothing was found save the relics of the 
noblest religion ever known to mankind, finally 
rotting and dwindling into puerile superstitions, 
mechanical prayer-wheels, and the most de- 
plorable witchcraft. And thus collapsed the 
final refuge of mystery; thus were surrendered 
to the profane the ultimate secrets of the 




LEAVING aside Plato and his school, 
whose theories are so well known that 
we need not recall them here, we shall now 
leave the comparatively limpid waters of the 
primitive religions to enter the troubled eddies 
which succeed them. As the simple and awe- 
inspiring conceptions whose very altitude hid 
them from view were lost to sight, those which 
followed them, and were but their shattered 
or distorted reflections, became more turbid and 
increased in number. It will suffice to pass 
them rapidly in review; for to judge by what 
we know, or rather by what we know that we 
cannot know, they no longer have very much 
to teach us, and can but fruitlessly confuse and 
complicate the confession of the less knowable 
and the consequences which proceed therefrom. 
Before the reading of the hieroglyphs, the 
discovery of the sacred books of India and 
Persia, and the labors of our own scientific 
metapsychologists, the only sources of occult- 
ism were the cabala and the writings of the 
Gnostics and Neoplatonists of Alexandria. 

The Great Secret 

It is not very easy to locate the cabala 
chronologically. The "Sefer Yezireh," as we 
know it, which is as it were the entrance to the 
cabala, seems to have been written about 829 
A. D., and the "Zohar," which is the temple, 
about the end of the thirteenth century. But 
many of the doctrines which it teaches go back 
very much further: namely, to the Babylonian 
captivity, and even to the bondage of the 
Israelites in Egypt. From this point of view, 
then, we must place it before the Gnostics and 
the Neoplatonists; but on the other hand it 
has borrowed so much from the latter and 
they have influenced it so greatly that it is 
almost impossible to speak of it until we have 
said something of those to which it owes the 
best and the worst of its theories. 

It is true that these Jewish traditions, for 
their part, mingled their abundant streams 
with those of the other Oriental religions 
which from the first century to the sixth in- 
vaded the Greek and Roman theosophy and 
philosophy, causing men to call in question and 
to examine more closely the beliefs and theo- 
ries by which they had lived. There was in 
the intellectual world, and above all in Alex- 
andria, whither flowed all races and all doc- 
trines, a strange force of curiosity, restlessness, 

The Gnostics and the Neoplatonists 

and activity. For the first time at all events, 
so it is believed the Hellenic philosophy 
found itself directly in contact with the Orien- 
tal religions and philosophies audacious, 
grandiose, unfathomable which until then it 
had known only by hearsay or by niggardly 
fragments. The Gnostics contributed, among 
other doctrines, those of Zoroaster, while the 
mysterious Essenes, theosophists and the- 
urgists, who came from the shores of the Dead 
Sea, and rather mysteriously disappeared (al- 
though in the days of Philo they were forty 
thousand strong) or were eventually absorbed 
by the Gnostics, doubtless represented the Hin- 
du element more directly; the cabalists, who 
existed before the cabala was committed to 
writing, infused fresh life into the doctrines 
of Persia, Chaldea, and Egypt; the Christians 
woke up to find themselves between the Bible 
and the legends of India; and the Neoplato- 
nists, who might more correctly be called the 
Neo-Orphics or Neo-Pythagoreans, returned 
to the old philosophers of the sixth century 
before our era, striving to find in them truths 
too long ignored, which were suddenly restored 
to daylight by the revelations from the East. 
We need not here investigate this efferves- 
cence, which constitutes one of the most intense, 
and, in some respects, most fruitful crises ever 
recorded in the history of human thought. For 

The Great Secret 

our present purposes it is enough to note that 
from the point of view of the idea of God, of 
the First Cause, of the pre-cosmic Spirit, or the 
absolute Reality, which precedes all being, 
manifest or conditioned, as from the point of 
view of the origin, purpose, and economy of 
the universe and the nature of good and evil, 
it teaches us nothing that we have not found 
in previous religions and philosophies. The 
manifestations of the Unknowable, the divi- 
sion of the primordial Unity, and the descent 
of spirit into substance are attributed to the 
Logos; they change their name without lessen- 
ing the surrounding darkness. In the attempt 
to find an explanation of the insoluble contra- 
dictions involved by an impassive god and a 
universe in incessant movement, an unknowable 
god who is finally known in every detail, a good 
god who creates, desires, or permits evil, men 
imagined, first, a threefold hypostasis, and 
then a host of intermediate divinities, demi- 
urges, or reduplications of God, eons, or divine 
faculties and attributes personified, angels, and 
demons. In the backwaters of these special- 
izations, distinctions, and subdivisions, subtle, 
ingenious, and inextricable, the simple though 
tremendous confession of the Unknowable was 
soon submerged by such a tide of words that 
it was no longer visible. 1 Before long it was 

1 The Gnostics taught that the Supreme Being, or Perfect 
I 5 6 

The Gnostics and the Neoplatonists 

completely forgotten, was no longer referred 
to; and the Supreme Unknown engendered so 
many and so familiar secondary divinities that 
it no longer dared to remind men that they 
could never know it. Of course the greater 
the number of phrases and explanations, the 
more completely were the primitive verities, on 
which all was founded, effaced and obscured; 
so that after men had attained, or regained, 
in Philo, and above all in Plotinus, the loftiest 
summits of thought, they descended, on the 
one hand, to the lucubrations of that Chinese 
puzzle, the famous "Pistis-Sophia," attributed 
to Valentinian, and on the other to the pre- 
tended revelations of lamblichus concerning 
the Egyptian mysteries revelations which re- 
vealed nothing whatever and the whole Gnos- 
tic and Neoplatonic movement ended, with the 
successors of Valentinian and those who con- 
tinued the work of Porphyry and Proclus, by 
sinking into the most puerile logomachy and 
the most vulgar witchcraft. 

We need not, therefore, consider the move- 
ment any further: not that the study of this 
effervescence would be devoid of interest; on 
the contrary, there are few moments of history 

Eon, or, as we should say, the Eternal, could be approached 
only by a number of emanations or eons. In other words, 
these were regarded as eternal Beings who acted as inter- 
mediaries between the Perfect Eon and mankind, and, being 
joined together formed the Perfect Eon. TRANS. 


The Great Secret 

at which the mind has been forced to encounter 
problems of so novel, complex, and difficult a 
nature, or at which it has given proof of 
greater power, vitality, and enthusiasm. But 
what I have already said of this period is 
enough for my purpose, which is merely to 
show that the occultists of Greece, and, above 
all, those of the middle ages, who interest us 
more especially because they are closer to us, 
so that our memory of them is more vivid, have 
nothing essential to teach us that we have not 
already learned from India, Egypt, and Persia. 




WE come at length to the cabala, which 
is in some sort the vital center of oc- 
cultism as it is commonly understood. 

This word, cabala, which covers doctrines 
that are in general or very imperfectly under- 
stood, is for some enveloped in mystery and 
illusion of a perturbing nature, at which they 
all but shudder as though they saw therein a 
reflection of infernal fires; while for others it 
evokes merely an unreadable jumble of ab- 
surd superstitions, of so much sheer nonsense, 
of fantastic formula: that lay claim to satanic 
powers; childish riddles and obsolete lucubra- 
tions which are no longer worthy of serious ex- 
amination. As a matter of fact the cabala 
merits neither this excess of honor nor this 
indignity. To begin with, there are two ca- 
balas: the cabala properly so called, the theo- 
retical cabala, the only one with which we need 
concern ourselves; and the practical cabala, 
which is merely a sort of senile dermatosis, 
that gradually invades the less noble parts of 

The Great Secret 

the first, degenerating into imbecile practices 
of black magic and sordid witchcraft, in which 
it is impossible to take any interest. 

The philosophical, critical, and scientific study 
of the cabala, like that of Vedism, of the hiero- 
glyphs, or of Mazdeism, is a thing only of 
yesterday. Before Franck published his works 
on the subject, the cabala was known only by 
Knorr von Rosenroth's volume, the Kabbala 
Denudata, published in 1677, which, in sur- 
veying the "Zohar," examines only the "Book 
of Mysteries" and the "Great Assembly" ; that 
is, its obscurest portions, neglecting the text, 
and giving only imperfectly understood extracts 
from the commentators. Franck, in his Kab- 
bala ou la Philosophic Religieuse des Hebreux, 
which appeared in 1842, reproduced the com- 
plete and authentic texts for the first time, 
translating them and commenting upon them. 
Joel and Jellinck continued his researches, dis- 
cussed his conclusions and corrected his mis- 
takes, and the latest interpreter of these mys- 
terious books, S. Karppe, in his tude sur les 
Origines et la Nature du Zohar, returning to 
the problem already propounded, and going 
back to the sources of Jewish mysticism, gave 
us in 1901 a survey which enables us to ad- 
venture without fear on this perilous and sus- 
pect soil. 

The cabala, from the Hebrew kaballah t 
1 60 

The Cabala 

which, as all the dictionaries will tell you, 
signifies tradition, claims to be a body of oc- 
cult doctrine, coincident with or rather com- 
plementary to the teaching of the Bible, or 
the orthodox doctrines of the Torah, that is 
to say, of the Pentateuch, transmitted orally 
from the time of Moses, who is supposed to 
have received them directly from God, until 
a period which extends from the ninth to the 
thirteenth or fourteenth century of our era, 
when these secrets, whispered from mouth to 
ear, as the initiates used to say, were finally set 
down in writing. It is impossible to know how 
far this claim is justified, for beyond the first 
or second century before Christ the historical 
traces which might connect the tradition that we 
know with an earlier tradition are absolutely 
lacking. We must therefore confine ourselves 
to taking the two volumes of the cabala the 
"Sefer Yerizah" and the "Zohar" as we find 
them, and consider what they contained at the 
time when they were written. 

The "Sefer Yerizah," or "Book of Crea- 
tion," which was at first attributed, childishly 
enough, to the Patriarch Abraham, and then, 
without certainty, to the Rabbi Akiba, is briefly 
the work of an unknown author who com- 
piled it in the eighth or ninth century of our 

To give some idea of this work, it will 

The Great Secret 

suffice to transcribe a few paragraphs of the 
first chapter: 

"By thirty-two voices of marvelous wisdom 
Yah, Yehovah Zebaoth, the living God, God 
the All-Highest, abiding forever, whose name is 
holy (He is sublime and holy), set forth and 
created His world in three books; the Book 
properly so called, the Number, and the 

"Ten Sephiroth unassisted, twenty-two 
letters of which three are fundamental letters, 
seven double letters and twelve simple letters. 

"Ten Sephiroth unassisted, conforming with 
the number of ten fingers, five facing five. And 
the alliance of the One is exactly adapted to 
the middle by the circumcision of the tongue 
and the circumcision of the flesh. 

"Ten Sephiroth unassisted, ten and not nine, 
ten and not eleven. Understand with wis- 
dom and meditate with intelligence; examine 
them, look into them deeply. Refer the 
thing to its light and set its author in his 

"Ten Sephiroth unassisted; their measure is 
the ten without end: profundity of beginning 
and profundity of end; profundity of good 
and profundity of evil; profundity of height 
and profundity of depth; profundity of east and 
profundity of west; profundity of north and 
profundity of south; one sole master, God, 

The Cabala 

faithful King, reigns over all from the height 
of his holy and eternal dwelling. 

"Ten Sephiroth unassisted; their aspect is 
like the lightning, but their end has no end. 
His command to them is that they shall hasten 
and come, and according to His word they hurl 
themselves forward like the tempest, and pros- 
trate themselves before His throne. 

"Ten Sephiroth unassisted; their end fixed 
to their beginning and their beginning to their 
end, like a flame attached to the coal. The 
Master is unique and has no helpers. Now 
what art thou before the One?" 

And so it goes on interminably, plunging 
into a sort of incomprehensible superstition of 
letters and numbers considered as abstract 
powers. It is certain that one can make such 
texts say anything one pleases, and that one 
gets out of them anything one wants. We find 
here for the first time the conception of the 
Sephiroth, which the "Zohar" will unfold more 
completely; and we discover in it a system of 
creation in which "the Word, that is, the Word 
of God, by expressing the letters Alef, Mem, 
Schin" as is explained by S. Karppe, one of 
the most learned commentators of this enig- 
matic book, "gives birth to the three elements, 
and producing with these letters six combina- 
tions, it gives birth to six directions; that is, 
it gives the elements the power to extend them- 

The Great Secret 

selves in all directions. Then, instilling into 
these elements the twenty-two letters of the 
alphabet, including the three letters Alef, Mem, 
and Schin (no longer as substantial elements, 
but as letters), and expressing the whole variety 
of words which result from these letters, it 
produces the entire multiplicity of things." x 

All this, as we see, reveals nothing of great 
importance; and I should not have lingered 
over these solemn tomfooleries were it not that 
the "Sefer Yerizah" enjoys a reputation among 
occultists which hardly seems deserved when 
one looks into the matter, and serves as a 
point of departure and a basis for the "Zohar," 
which constantly refers to it. 

The occultists have endeavored to give us 
the keys of the "Sefer," but I humbly confess 
that for me these keys have opened nothing. 
After all, it is probable enough, as Karppe says, 
that this mysterious volume is merely the work 
of a pedagogue bent upon concentrating, in a 
very brief handbook, all the elementary sci- 
entific knowledge relating to reading and gram- 
mar, cosmology and physics, the division of 
time and space, anatomy, and Jewish doctrine; 
and that instead of being the work of a mys- 
tic it is rather a sort of encyclopedia, a mnemo- 
technical enchiridion. 

1 S. Karppe, Etudes sur let Origines et la Nature du Zo- 
har; pp. 159 and 163. 


The Cabala 

The "Zohar" which means "the light," 
like the "Sefer Yerizeh," is the fruit of pro- 
tracted mystical fermentation which goes back 
to a period when the "Talmud" was not yet 
completed; that is, before the sixth century 
of our era, and above all during the period 
known as Gaonic. After a somewhat lengthy 
eclipse, this mysticism revived about the year 
820 A. D., and continued to manifest itself in 
the writings of the great Jewish theologians; 
Ibn Gabirol, Juda ha Levy, Abn-Ezra, and, 
principally, in those of Maimonides. Then 
directly preparing for the cabala, comes the 
school of Isaac the Blind, which is above all 
metaphysical "an abstraction of the Neo- 
platonic abstractions," as some one has de- 
scribed it, in which Nachmanides shone with 
particular brilliance; then the school of Elea- 
zar of Worms, which gave special attention to 
the mysteries of letters and numbers; and the 
school of Abulafia, which devoted itself to pure 

This brings us to the "Zohar," properly so 
called. Like the Bible, like the "Vedas," the 
"Avesta," and the Egyptian "Book of the 
Dead," this is not a homogeneous production 
but the result of a slow process of incubation, 
the work of numbers of anonymous collabora- 

The Great Secret 

tors, incoherent, disconnected, often contradic- 
tory, in which one finds a little of everything, 
of the best as well as the worst, the loftiest 
speculations being followed by the most child- 
ish and extravagant irrelevances. It is a col- 
lection, a storehouse, or rather a bazaar, 
heaped pell-mell with everything that could not 
find place in the official religion, as being too 
audacious, too exalted, too fantastic, or too 
alien to the Jewish spirit. 

It is not easy to determine the date of a 
work of this kind. Franck, to emphasize its 
antiquity, refers to its Chaldean form. But a 
great many rabbis of the middle ages wrote 
Chaldean Aramaic. It was then maintained 
that it was the work of a Tanaite, Simon ben 
Jochai (about 150 A. D.), but nothing confirm- 
ing his authorship has come to light. We find 
no certain trace of its existence before the end 
of the thirteenth century. The most probable 
theory and the learned Karppe reached this 
conclusion after a long and minute discussion 
of all possible hypotheses is that Moses de 
Leon, who lived at the beginning of the four- 
teenth century, most assuredly took a part in 
the compilation of the "Zohar"; and, if he was 
not its principal author, gathered into a single 
whole a number of mystical fragments, com- 
mentaries on the Scriptures resulting, like so 
many other works of Jewish literature, from 

The Cabala 

the collaboration of a number of writers. In 
any case, it is certain that the "Zohar" as we 
know it is comparatively modern. 

For the Jehovah of the Bible, the only God, 
personal, anthropomorphic, the direct Creator 
of the universe, the "Zohar" substitutes the En- 
sof : that is, the Infinite; or perhaps we should 
rather say that it is superposed upon Jehovah, 
or is presupposed; and the En-sof is also the 
Ayin, that is, the non-existent, the Ancient of 
Ancients, the Mystery of Mysteries, the Long 
Face. The En-sof is God in Himself, as un- 
knowable, as inconceivable, as the Cause with- 
out cause or the Supreme Spirit of the "Vedas," 
of which He is only a replica, modified by the 
Jewish genius. He is even nearer the non- 
existent than the Supreme Spirit of the Hindus, 
for His first manifestation, the first Sephira, the 
"Crown," is still non-existence; it is the Ayin of 
the Ayin, the non-existence of non-existence. 
He is not even called "That," as in India. 
"When all was still contained in Him," says 
the "Zohar," "God was the Mystery of Mys- 
teries. He was then without name. The only 
fitting term for Him would have been the in- 
terrogation: Who?" 1 

Of this Deity we can give but negative and 

i "Zohar"; II, 105. 


The Great Secret 

contradictory descriptions. "He is separate, 
since He is superior to all; and He is not sep- 
arate. He has a shape, and is shapeless. He 
has a shape in so far as He establishes the 
universe, and He has no shape in so far as He 
is not contained in it." * 

Before the unfolding of the universe He was 
not, or was but a question-mark in the void. 
So here we find at the outset the confession of 
absolute ignorance, invincible, irreducible. 
The En-sof is but an unlimited enlargement of 
the Unknowable; the God of the Bible is ab- 
sorbed and disappears in a vast abstraction; 
hence the necessity of secrecy. 

But it was necessary to make this inconceiv- 
able negation impenetrable, immobile, and 
eternal, like the Supreme Cause of the Indian 
religions emerge from its non-existence and 
its immobility and pass from the infinite to the 
finite, from the invisible to the visible; and it 
is here that the difficulties begin. God being 
infinite (that is, filling all things, how, beside 
the En-sof, the Infinite, is there room for the 
Sof, the finite? The "Zohar" is evidently em- 
barrassed, and its explanations lead it far from 
the humble and awe-inspiring simplicity of 
Hindu theosophy. It is loath to admit its igno- 
rance ; it wants to account for everything, and, 
groping in the Unknowable, it entangles itself 

i "Zohar"; III, 288-a. 

1 68 

The Cabala 

in explanations which are often irreconcilable, 
and when the ground falls away beneath its 
feet it has recourse to allegories and meta- 
phors, to mask the impotence of its conceptions 
or to provide an apparent escape from the 
dilemma in which it has placed itself. For a 
moment it asks itself whether it can admit of 
creation ex nihilo, extending to this first act the 
incomprehensible character of the divinity; 
then it seems to think better of it and rallies 
to the doctrine of emanation, which it finds in 
India, in Zoroastrianism, and in the Neoplato- 
nists. It modifies their doctrine, adapting it to 
the Jewish genius, and complicates it to the ut- 
most without succeeding in explaining it. 

This theory of emanation as expounded in 
the "Zohar" is indeed strangely obscure, un- 
certain, and heteroclite, lapsing every moment 
into anthropomorphism. 

To make room for the universe, God, who 
filled space, concentrated Himself; and in the 
space left free He irradiated His thought and 
exteriorized a portion of Himself. This first 
emanation or irradiation is the first Sephira, 
"the Crown." It represents the Infinite hav- 
ing moved one step toward the finite, non- 
existence having taken one step toward exist- 
ence, the first substance. From this first Se- 
phira, which is still almost non-existence, but a 
non-existence more accessible to our intelli- 

The Great Secret 

gence, emanate or develop two further Sephi- 
roth: Wisdom, the male principle, and Intelli- 
gence, the female principle; that is, on proceed- 
ing from the Crown the contraries appear, the 
first differentiation of things. From the union 
of Wisdom and Intelligence is born Knowledge; 
we have thus the pure Idea, Thought exterio- 
rized, and the Voice or Speech which connects 
the first with the second. This first Trinity 
of Sephiroth is followed by another : Grace or 
Splendor, Justice or Severity, and their media- 
trix, Beauty. Lastly the Sephiroth, mingling 
in Beauty, develop yet further, and produce a 
third group: Victory, Splendor, Foundation; 
and then the Sephira Empire or Royalty, which 
brings into existence all the Sephiroth in the 
visible universe. 

The Sephiroth as a whole, moreover, consti- 
tute the mysterious Adam Kadmon, the primor- 
dial super-man, of whom the occultists will 
have much to tell us, and who himself repre- 
sents the universe. 

This explanation of the inexplicable, like all 
explanations of the sort, really explains noth- 
ing whatever, and conceals the incomprehensi- 
ble beneath a flood of ingenious metaphors. 
Obeying, as previous religions had done, the 
necessity of building a bridge between the in- 
finite and the finite, between the inconceivable 
and conception, instead of contenting itself, as 

The Cabala 

did India, with the renewal or the duplication 
of the Supreme Cause, or the Egyptian, Persia, 
and Neoplatonic Logos, it multiplies the bridges 
by multiplying the intermediaries; but numer- 
ous though they be, these ladders none the less 
end in the same confession of ignorance. At 
all events, this explanation, by concealing this 
fresh admission beneath a mountain of images, 
has the advantage of relegating to a sort of 
inaccessible in pace the first confession, the prin- 
cipal and most embarrassing admission, which 
places the First Cause and the existence of 
God beyond our reach. After the creation of 
the Sephiroth and of the universe the En-sof 
is generally forgotten; like the That of India 
or the Nu of Egypt, it is by preference passed 
over in silence; and it is but rarely that ques- 
tions concerning it are asked. It is too secret, 
too mysterious, too incomprehensible even for 
a secret and mysterious doctrine like that of 
the cabala, and the whole attention is given 
solely to the emanations which the imagination 
attributes to it and which one seems to know 
because they have been given names, virtues, 
functions, and attributes: in a word, because 
man himself has created them. 


When did the En-sof begin to project its 
emanations? To this question, which India 

The Great Secret 

answered by the theory of the nights and days 
of Brahma, without beginning or end, the ca- 
bala does not give a very clear reply. "Before 
God created this world," it says, "He had 
created a great many worlds, and had caused 
them to disappear until the thought came to 
him to create this one." 1 What has become 
of these vanished worlds? "It is the privi- 
lege," replies the cabala, "of the strength of 
the Supreme King that these worlds, which 
could not take shape, do not perish; that noth- 
ing perishes, even to the breath of His mouth; 
everything has its place and its destination, and 
God knows what He does with it. Even the 
speech of man and the sound of his voice do 
not lapse into non-existence; everything has its 
place and its dwelling." 2 

And what of our world? Whither is it go- 
ing? What is its destiny? The Zohar being 
a heteroclite production, a very late compila- 
tion, its doctrine in this respect is much less 
definite than that of Brahmanism; but if de- 
tached from the illogical and alien elements 
which often cross or divert its course, it like- 
wise attains the stage of pantheism, and by way 
of pantheism it achieves the inevitable opti- 
mism. The En-sof, the Infinite, is everything; 
consequently everything is the En-sof. To man- 

1 "Zohar"; III, 6i-b. 

2 "Zohar"; II, loo-b. 


The Cabala 

ifest itself, the pure abstraction develops it- 
self by means of intermediaries and, in its good- 
ness voluntarily degrading itself, ends in 
thought, and in matter, which is the last deg- 
radation of thought; and when the Messianic 
era conies "everything will return into its root 
as it emerged therefrom." 1 

Man, who in the "Zohar" is the center of 
the world and its microcosm, may from the 
moment of his death rejoice in this return to 
perfection; and his purified soul will receive 
the kiss of peace which "unites it anew and 
forever to its root, its principle." 2 

And evil? Evil, in the "Zohar," as in Brah- 
manism, is matter. "Man, by his victory 
over evil, triumphs over matter, or rather sub- 
ordinates the matter within him to a higher 
vocation; he ennobles matter, making it ascend 
from the extreme point to which it was rele- 
gated to the place of its origin. In him, who 
is the great consciousness, matter acquires con- 
sciousness of the distance that separates it 
from the Supreme Good, and strives to ap- 
proach the latter. Through man the darkness 
aspires toward the light, the multiple toward 
the single. The whole of nature aspires to- 
ward God. 

"Through man God remakes Himself, hav- 

1 "Zohar"; III, 296. 

2 "Zohar"; I, 68-a. 

The Great Secret 

ing passed through the whole splendid divinity 
of living creatures. Since man is an expression 
epitomizing all things, when he has overcome 
the evil in himself he has overcome the evil 
in all things; he draws with him, as he climbs, 
all the lower elements, and his ascent entails 
the ascent of the whole cosmos." 1 

But why was evil necessary? "Why," asks 
the "Zohar," "if the soul is of heavenly es- 
sence, does it descend upon the earth?" The 
reply to this great problem, which no religion 
has given, the "Zohar," in accordance with its 
habit when embarrassed, evades by means of 
an allegory : "A king sent his son into the coun- 
try that he might grow strong and sound there 
and acquire the necessary knowledge. After 
some time he was informed that his son was 
now grown up; that he was a strong, healthy 
youth, and that his education was completed. 
He then, because he loved him, sent the queen 
herself to fetch him and bring him back to the 
palace. In the same way nature bears the 
King of the universe a son, the divine Soul, and 
the King sends him into the country, that is, the 
terrestial universe, in order that he may grow 
strong, and gain in nobility and dignity." 2 

The disciples of Rabbi Simon ben Zemach 
Duran, one of the great scholars of the 

1 S. Karppe, op. cit.; p. 478. 
2 "Zohar"; I, 245. 


The Cabala 

"Zohar," asked him: "Would it not have 
been better if man had never been born, 
rather than that he should be born with 
the faculty of sinning and angering God?" 
And the master replied: "By no means, for the 
universe in its actual form is the best thing in 
existence. Now, the law is indispensable to 
the maintenance of this universe, otherwise the 
universe would be a desert; and man in his 
turn is indispensable to the law." The disci- 
ples understood and said: "Assuredly God did 
not create the world without cause; the law is 
indeed the raiment of God; it is that by which 
He is accessible. Without human virtue, God 
would be but miserably arrayed. He who does 
evil soils in his soul the raiment of God, and 
he who does good puts on the divine splen- 
dor." 1 We should indeed be gracious were 
we more exacting than these obliging and re- 
spectful disciples. 

Another question of the utmost importance, 
that of eternal punishment, is likewise evaded. 
Logically, a pantheistic religion cannot admit 
that God could chastise and eternally torture a 
portion of Himself. The "Zohar" certainly 
says somewhere: "How many souls and spirits 
are there eternally wandering, who never again 
behold the courts of heaven?" 

But in another section it expressly teaches 

i "Zohar"; I, 2 3 -a-b. 


The Great Secret 

the doctrine of transmigration; that is, the 
gradual purification of the soul by means of 
successive existences; and it bases this doctrine, 
obviously borrowed from the great religions of 
an earlier period, on certain passages of the 
Bible; among others, on Ecclesiastes, Chap. IV, 
v. 2, in which we read: "Wherefore I praised 
the dead which are already dead more than the 
living which are yet alive." "What is meant," 
asks the "Zohar," "by the dead which are al- 
ready dead?" They are those who have al- 
ready died once before this; that is, they were 
no longer bound on their first pilgrimage 
through life. Now, it is obvious that the doc- 
trine of a purifying transmigration must nec- 
essarily exclude eternal punishment. 


The "Zohar," then, as I have already 
stated, is a vast anonymous compilation which, 
under the pretext of revealing to the initiate 
the secret meaning of the Bible, and especially 
of the Pentateuch, decks out in Jewish clothing 
the confessions of ignorance of the great reli- 
gions of an earlier period, loading these gar- 
ments with all the new and complicated adorn- 
ments provided by the Essenes, the Neoplato- 
nists, the Gnostics, and even the first few cen- 
turies of Christianity. Whether it admits the 
fact or not, it is, in respect of the most im- 

The Cabala 

portant points, plainly agnostic, as is Brah- 
manism. Like Brahmanism, it is also panthe- 
istic. For the "Zohar" likewise the creation is 
rather an emanation; evil is matter, division 
or multiplicity, and good is the return to the 
spirit and to unity. Lastly, it admits the trans- 
migration of souls and their purification, and 
therefore Karma, as well as the final absorp- 
tion into the divine; that is, Nirvana. 

It is interesting to note that we have here for 
the first time for other statements have not 
come down to us an esoteric doctrine pro- 
claiming itself as such; and this doctrine has 
nothing more to teach us than that which we 
were taught, without reticence and without mys- 
tery at all events, at the outset, by the prim- 
itive religions. Like the latter, with its 
wholesale admissions and its expedients, differ- 
ent in form but identical at heart, for passing 
from non-existence to existence, from the in- 
finite to the finite, from the unknowable to the 
known, it follows the same rationalistic tra- 
dition that strives to explain the inexplicable by 
plausible hypotheses and inductions, to which 
we might give another shape and other names, 
but which, taking them on the whole, we could 
not, even to-day, perceptibly improve. At 
most we might be tempted to renounce all ex- 
planation whatsoever and extend our con- 
fession of ignorance to include the sum total of 

The Great Secret 

the origins, the manifestations, and the pur- 
poses of life. Perhaps this would be the wisest 

It shows us that it is highly probable that 
no secret doctrine ever was or ever could be 
other than secret; and that the loftiest revela- 
tions which we have ever been vouchsafed were 
always elicited from man by man himself. 

The importance assumed by this secret doc- 
trine during the middle ages may readily be 
imagined. Known only to a few initiates, 
wrapped up in incomprehensible formulae and 
images, whispered "from mouth to ear" in the 
midst of terrible dangers, it had a subterra- 
nean radiance, a sort of gloomy and irresistible 
fascination. It surveyed the world from a far 
loftier point of view than that of the Bible, 
which it regarded as a tissue of allegories be- 
hind which was hidden a truth known to it 
alone; it yielded to mankind, through the 
thickets of its fantastic and parasitical vegeta- 
tion, the last echoes of the noble precepts, of 
human reason at its dawn. 




ALL the occultism, alchemy, or hermetism 
of the middle ages proceeds from the 
cabala and the Alexandrian version of the Bi- 
ble, with the addition, perhaps, of certain tra- 
ditions of magical practice which were very 
widespread in ancient Egypt and Chaldea. 

From the theosophical and philosophical 
portion of this occultism we have nothing to 
learn. It is merely a distorted reflection, an 
extremely corrupt and often unrecognizable 
repetition of what we have already seen and 
heard. The mysterious paraphernalia with 
which it surrounds itself, which fascinates and 
deludes the beholder at the very outset, is 
merely an indispensable precaution to conceal 
from the eyes of the church the forbidden 
statements, perilous and heretical, of which 
it is full. The occult iconography, the signs, 
stars, triangles, pentagrams, and pentacles, 
were at bottom mnemonics, passwords, puns, 
or conundrums, which allowed confederates to 

The Great Secret 

recognize one another and to exchange or pub- 
lish truths which meant the constant threat of 
the stake, but which to judge by the explana- 
tions which have been offered us, do not and 
could not conceal anything that does not to- 
day seem perfectly admissible and inoffensive. 

Alchemy even, which is still the most inter- 
esting department of medieval occultism, is 
after all no more than a camouflage, a sort of 
screen, behind which the true initiates used to 
search for the secret of life. "The great 
task," says Eliphas Levi, "was not, properly 
speaking, the secret of the transmutation of 
metals, which was an accessory result, but the 
universal arcanum of life, the search for the 
central point of tranformation where light be- 
comes matter and is condensed into a world 
which contains in itself the principle of move- 
ment and of life. ... It is the fixation of as- 
tral light by a sovereign magic of the will." 
And this leads us to the odic or odylic phenom- 
ena of which we shall speak in a later chap- 
ter, and puts us on the track of this fixation. 

What is more, in the eyes of the higher ini- 
tiates, the search for gold was only a symbol, 
concealing the search for the divine and the 
divine faculties in man; and it was only the in- 
ferior alchemists who took literally the cabalis- 
tic instructions of their conjuring-books, wore 
themselves out in the hope of solving problems, 

The Alchemists 

and ruined themselves in order to make ex- 
periments which nevertheless resulted in the 
progress of chemistry and in discoveries which 
in some respects that science has never yet sur- 

On the other hand, people are too ready to 
suppose that the occultism of the middle ages 
was preeminently diabolic. The truth is that 
the initiates did not and could not believe in 
the devil, since they did not accept the Chris- 
tian revelation as the church presented it to 
them. "No demons outside of humanity," was 
one of the fundamental axioms of the higher 
occultism. "To attribute what we do not un- 
derstand to the devil," said Van Helmont, "is 
the result of unlimited idleness." "One must 
not give the devil the whole credit," protested 

Devils and evil spirits, fallen angels or the 
souls of the damned, surrounded by eternal 
flames, will be found crawling only in the dark 
corners of black magic or witchcraft. The 
phantasmagoria of nocturnal revels have too 
often concealed from us the true occultism, 
which was, above all, though surrounded by 
the incessant peril of death and encompassed 
by hostile shadows, a tentative yet passionate 
search for truth, or at least for a seeming truth, 

The Great Secret 

for there is nothing else in this world; a truth 
which had once shone as a beacon through the 
darkness, which was possibly still shining else- 
where, but which was apparently lost, so that 
only its precious but shapeless relics were to be 
found, mingled with the dense dust of irritating 
and disheartening falsehoods, while the highest 
talents were wasted in a thankless process of 
sifting and selection. 


To dismiss the question of infernal spirits: 
the faithful none the less believed in the exist- 
ence and intervention of other invisible beings. 
They were convinced that the world which es- 
capes our senses is far more densely peopled 
than that which we perceive, and that we are 
living in the midst of a host of diaphanous yet 
attentive and active presences, which as a rule 
affect us without our knowledge, but which we 
can influence in our turn by a special training 
of the will. These invisible beings were not 
inhabitants of hell, since for the initiates of 
the middle ages, almost as certainly as for the 
believers in the great religions in the days when 
initiation was not yet necessary, hell was not a 
place of torture and malediction but a state of 
the soul after death. They were either wan- 
dering, disembodied spirits, worth very much 
what they had been worth during their life on 

The Alchemists 

earth, or they were the spirits of beings who 
had not as yet been incarnated. These were 
known as elementals; they were neutral spirits, 
indifferent, morally amorphous, devoid of will, 
doing good or evil according to the will of him 
who had learned to rule them. 

It is incontestable that certain experiments 
carried out by our spiritualists, notably those 
in connection with cross-correspondence and 
posthumous appearances (of which we have al- 
most scientific proof) , and certain phenomena 
of materialization and levitation, compel us 
to reconsider the plausibility of these theo- 

As for the instances of evocation, which of- 
ten fluctuate between "high" magic and sor- 
cery or black magic, and which in the eyes of 
the public, occupy, with alchemy and astrology, 
the three culminating pinnacles of occultism: 
their solemn paraphernalia, their cabalistic 
formulas, and their impressive ritual excepted, 
they precisely correspond with the more famil- 
iar evocations which are practised daily about 
our turning-tables, or the humble "ouija" or 
magic mirrors. They correspond also with the 
manifestations which were obtained, for exam- 
ple, by the celebrated Eusapia Paladino, and 
which are at the present time being produced, 
under the strictest "controls," by Madame Bis- 
son's medium ; with this difference, that instead 

The Great Secret 

of the human phantom expected by those pres- 
ent at a modern seance, the believers of the 
middle ages thought to see the devil in person; 
and the devil who haunted their minds appeared 
to them as they imagined him. 

Is autosuggestion responsible for these mani- 
festations, or collective suggestion, or exuda- 
tion, or the transference or crystallization of 
spiritualized matter borrowed from the specta- 
tors, with which is intermingled some extrater- 
restrial and unknown element? If it is impos- 
sible to distinguish such an element when we 
are dealing with facts which occur before our 
eyes, it would be all the more audacious to 
form a decision in the case of phenomena which 
occurred some hundreds of years ago and are 
known to us only through a more or less par- 
tial narrative. 

Lastly, alchemy and astrology, the two re- 
maining pinnacles of occultism, were, in the oc- 
cultism of the middle a'ges, second-rate sciences 
which, from the point of view of the Great Se- 
cret, do not offer any novel element, their Greek, 
Hebrew, and Arab origin being connected with 
Egypt and Chaldea only by means of apocry- 
phal and comparatively recent writings. Pierre 
Berthelot, in his work on Les Origines de I'Al- 
chimie, has given us a masterly survey of the 

The Alchemists 

alchemist's science. He has exhausted the sub- 
ject, or at least the chemical aspect of it; but 
his work might perhaps be more complete from 
the point of view of hyperchemistry or meta- 
chemistry or of psychochemistry, which would 
seem to be no less important. It is likewise 
greatly to be desired that some great astrono- 
mer-philosopher should give us, in a work upon 
astrology, the pendant of this admirable vol- 
ume; but hitherto the data have been so scanty 
that the undertaking would hardly seem to be 
possible. As much might be done for hermetic 
medicine, which, for that matter, is connected 
with alchemy and astrology. 

But it is possible that alchemy and astrology, 
which after all are merely transcendental chem- 
istry and astronomy (professing to transcend 
matter and the stars in order to arrive at those 
spiritual and eternal principles which are the 
essence of the one and control the others), 
would have no surprises or revelations in store 
for us if we could go back directly to their 
Hindu, Egyptian, and Chaldean origins; which 
has not as yet been practicable, for we have 
nothing to serve as comparison but the famous 
Leyden Papyrus, which is merely the memoran- 
dum-book of an Egyptian goldsmith, containing 
formulae for making alloys, gilding metals, dye- 
ing stuffs purple, and imitating or adulterating 
gold and silver. 


The Great Secret 


Among the medieval occultists, almost all 
of whom were alchemists, we shall confine our- 
selves to recalling the names of Raymond Lully 
(thirteenth century), doctor illuminatus and 
author of the Ars Magna, to-day almost un- 
readable; Nicolas Flamel (fifteenth century), 
who according to Berthelot is merely a char- 
latan pure and simple; Reuchlin; Weigel, Boeh- 
me's teacher; Bernardo of Treviso; Basil Val- 
entin, whose special subject of investigation 
was antimony; the two Isaacs, father and son; 
Trithemius, whom Eliphas Lev! calls "the 
greatest dogmatic magician of the middle 
ages," although his famous cryptographical- 
works his Polygraphla or his Steganogra- 
phia consist of a rather puerile playing upon 
words and letters; and his pupil Cornelius 
Agrippa, author of De Occulta Philosophia, 
who simply recapitulates the theories of the 
Alexandrian school and, in Eliphas Levi's 
words, is no more than "an audacious pro- 
faner, fortunately extremely superficial in his 
writings." We have still to mention Guil- 
laume Postel, a sixteenth century occultist, who 
was acquainted with Greek, Hebrew, and Ara- 
bic, was a great traveler, and brought back to 
Europe some important Oriental manuscripts; 
among others the works of Aboul-Feda, the 

The Alchemists 

Arab historian of the thirteenth century. "The 
beloved and upright Guillaume Postel," writes 
Eliphas Levi, in a letter to Baron Spedalieri, 
"our father in the Sacred Science, since we 
owe to him our knowledge of the 'Sepher 
Yerizah' and the 'Zohar,' would have been the 
greatest initiate of his century had not ascetic 
mysticism and enforced celibacy filled his brain 
with the heady fumes of enthusiasm which 
sometimes caused his lofty intellect to wander"; 
a remark, be it said in passing, which might 
be applied to other hermetists of other times 
and nations. 

After mention of Heinrich Khunrath, Os- 
wald Crollins, etc., we come to the seventeenth 
century, the earlier years of which were the 
great period of alchemy, which began to ap- 
proximate to science properly so called. Gas- 
tric juice was discovered by Van Helmont, 
sulphate of soda and the heavy oils of tar by 
Glauber, who also had a notion of chlorine, 
while Kunckel discovered phosphorus. 

Were I writing a general history of occult- 
ism, instead of merely inquiring what new 
things we may learn from the last of the 
adepts, whether they were conscious or not of 
the occult wisdom whose trial we have fol- 
lowed through the ages, I should have been 
obliged to linger for a moment over the myste- 
rious Templars, who adopted in part the Jew- 

The Great Secret 

ish traditions and the narratives of the "Tal- 
mud," and were followed by the Rosicrucians. 
I ought also to single out and consider at 
rather greater length two fantastic and enig- 
matical figures who dominate and summarize 
all the occultism of the middle ages; namely, 
'Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme. But when we 
consider them closely we discover that what- 
ever their pretensions, they did not deduce 
from an unknown source the revelations which, 
they published and which so perturbed their 

Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastes 
Von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus (an ap- 
proximate translation of Hohenheim), was 
born in Switzerland in 1493 and died in Salz- 
burg in 1541. He bears the burden of an un- 
just legend which represents him as a drunkard, 
a debauchee, a charlatan, and a lunatic. He 
certainly had many faults, and he seems at 
times to have been somewhat unbalanced; none 
the less he remains one of the most extraordi- 
nary persons mentioned in history. He was 
a Neoplatonist and consequently was not igno- 
rant of the Alexandrian writings accessible to 
the hermetics of his time ; but it is probable that 
during his travels in Turkey and Egypt he was 
able to obtain a more direct knowledge of cer- 
tain Asiatic traditions relating to the etheric 
or astral body upon which he based the whole 
1 88 

The Alchemists 

of his medical theories. He taught, in fact, in 
accordance with the ancient Hindu treatises 
which have since then been brought to light 
by the theosophists, that our maladies are 
caused not by the physical body but by the 
etheric or astral body, which corresponds pretty 
closely with what to-day is termed the sub- 
consciousness, and, consequently that it was be- 
fore all necessary to act upon this subconscious- 
ness. Certain it is that many facts in many cir- 
circumstances tend to confirm this theory, and it 
may be that the therapeutics of to-morrow 
will lead us in this direction. According to 
Paracelsus, even plants have an etheric body, 
and medicaments act not in virtue of their chem- 
ical properties, but in virtue of their astral 
properties; an hypothesis which would seem to 
be corroborated by the comparatively recent 
discovery of the "od," which we shall consider 
in a later chapter. 

His conceptions relating to the existence of a 
universal vital fluid, the Akahsa of the Hindus, 
which he called the Alkahest, and of the astral 
light of the cabalists, are also among those to 
which our modern ideas of the preponderant 
functions of the ether are calling our attention. 
It is obvious, on the other hand, that he often 
exceeds all bounds, as when he carries to alto- 
gether excessive lengths a childish systematiza- 
tion of purely apparent or verbal concordances 

The Great Secret 

between certain portions of the human body 
and those of medicinal plants; while his asser- 
tions on the subject of the Archai, a species of 
special or individual jinnee placed in charge of 
the functions of the various organs, and the 
fantastic chalatanry of his homunculus are 
equally indefensible. But these errors were 
inherent in the science of his day and are pos- 
sibly not much more ridiculous than our own. 
When all is said, there remains the memory of 
a truly amazing pioneer and a prodigious vis- 

As for Jacob Boehme, the famous cobbler of 
Goerlitz, his case would be miraculous and ab- 
solutely inexplicable if he had really been the 
illiterate that some have called him. But this 
legend must decidedly be abandoned. Boehme 
had studied the German theosophists, notably 
Paracelsus, and was perfectly familiar with the 
Neoplatonists, whose doctrines, indeed, he re- 
produced, recasting them to some extent and 
wrapping them up in a more obscure phrase- 
ology, which none the less was often unexpected 
and extremely impressive; and mingling them 
with the elements of the cabala and a certain 
amount of mystical mathematics and of al- 
chemy. I refer those who may be interested 
in this strange and assuredly brilliant though 
very unequal spirit for his work is full of un- 

The Alchemists 

readable rubbish to an essay which Emile 
Boutroux has devoted to him: Le Philosophe 
Allemand Jacob Boehme. They could have 
no better guide. 




BEFORE the discoveries of the Indianists 
and Egyptologists, the modern occultists, 
who with the exception of Swedenborg, a 
great isolated visionary may be counted as 
descending from Martinez Pasqualis, who was 
born in 1715 and died in 1779, had perforce to 
study the same texts and the same traditions, 
applying themselves, according to taste, to the 
cabala or to the Alexandrian theories. Pas- 
qualis wrote nothing, but left behind him the 
legend of an extraordinary magician. His dis- 
ciple, Claude de Saint-Martin, the "Unknown 
Philosopher," was a sort of intuitive theoso- 
phist, who ended by rediscovering Jacob 
Boehme. His books, carefully thought out and 
admirably written, may still be read with plea- 
sure and even with advantage. Without lin- 
gering over the Comte de Saint-Germain, who 
claimed to retain the memory of all his pre- 
vious existences, Cagliostro, the mighty illu- 
sionist and formidable charlatan, the Marquis 
d'Argens, Dom Pernetty, d'Espremenil, La- 

The Modern Occultists 

vater, Eckartshausen, Delille de Salle, the 
Abbe Terrasson, Bergasse, Clootz, Court de 
Gebelin, or all the mystics who toward the end 
of the eighteenth century were to be found in 
swarms, in aristocratic circles and the masonic 
lodges, and were members of the secret socie- 
ties which were preparing the way for the 
French Revolution but have nothing of impor- 
tance to teach us, we may pause for a moment 
at the name of Fabre d'Olivet, a writer of the 
first rank, who has given us a new interpreta- 
tion of the Genesis of Moses, audacious and 
impressive. Being no Hebrew scholar I am 
not competent to pronounce upon its value, but 
the cabala seems to confirm it; and it presents 
itself surrounded by an imposing scientific and 
philosophical equipment. 

And we now come to Eliphas Levi and his 
books, with their alarming titles: "A History 
of Magic," "The Key to the Great Mysteries," 
"Dogma and Ritual of the Higher Magic," 
"The Great Arcanum, or Occultism Unveiled," 
etc., the last master of occultism properly so 
called, of that occultism which immediately pre- 
cedes that of our metapsychists, who have def- 
initely renounced the cabala, Gnosticism, and 
the Alexandrians, relying wholly on scientific 


The Great Secret 

Eliphas Levi, whose true name was Alphonse- 
Louis-Constant, was born in 1810 and died in 
1875. In a certain sense he epitomized the 
whole of the occultism of the middle ages, with 
its fumbling progress, its half-truths, its def- 
initely limited knowledge, its intuitions, its ir- 
ritating obscurities, its exasperating reticences, 
its errors and prejudices. Writing before he 
had the opportunity or the inclination to profit 
by the principal discoveries of the Egyptolo- 
gists and the Indianists and the work of con- 
temporary criticism, and himself devoid of all 
critical spirit, he studied only the medieval doc- 
uments of which we have spoken; and apart 
from the "Sepher Yerizah," the "Zohar" 
(which, for that matter, he knew only from the 
fantastical fragments in the Kabbala Denu- 
data), the "Talmud," and the Book of Revela- 
tion, he applied himself by preference to the 
most undeniably apocryphal of these docu- 
ments. In addition to those which I have 
mentioned his three "bedside books" were the 
"Trismegistus," and "The Tarot." 

The "Book of Enoch," attributed by legend 
to the patriarch Enoch, the son of Jared and 
the father of Methuselah, must actually be as- 
signed to a date not far removed from the be- 
ginning of the Christian era, since the latest 
event with which its author was acquainted was 

The Modern Occultists 

the war of Antiochus Sidetes against John Hyr- 
canus. It is an apocalyptic book, probably 
from the pen of an Essene, as is proved by his 
angelology, which exerted a profound influence 
over Jewish mysticism before the advent of 
the "Zohar." 

The "Writings of Hermes Trismegistus," 
translated by Louis Menard, who devoted an 
authoritative essay to the text, is attributed to 
Thoth, the Egyptian Hermes, and reveals some 
extremely interesting analogies with the sacred 
books of India, and notably with the "Bhagha- 
vat-Gita," demonstrating once again the uni- 
versal infiltration of the great primitive reli- 
gion. But chronologically there is not the 
slightest doubt that the birthplace of the "Poi- 
mandres," "The Asclepius," and the fragments 
of the "Sacred Book," was Alexandria. The 
Hermetic theology is full of Neoplatonic and 
other expressions and ideas, borrowed from 
Philo, and whose passages of the "Poimandres" 
may be compared with the Revelation of St. 
John, which they actually echo, proving that 
the two works were written at periods by no 
means distant from one another. It is there- 
fore not surprising that as far as the religion 
of ancient Egypt is concerned they have no 
more to teach us than had lamblichus, since at 
the period when the Greeks investigated it the 

The Great Secret 

symbolism of this religion, as Louis Menard 
has observed, was already a dead letter to its 
very priests. 

As for the "Tarot," it is, according to the 
occultists, the first book written by human hand 
and earlier than the sacred books of India, 
whence it is supposed to have made its way into 
Egypt. Unfortunately no trace of it has been 
discovered in the archaeology of these two coun- 
tries. It is true that an Italian chronicle in- 
forms us that the first card game, which was 
merely a vulgarized form of the "Tarot," was 
imported into Viterbo in 1379 by the Saracens, 
which betrays its Oriental origin. At all 
events, in its present form it does not go back 
further than Jacquemin Gringonneur, an illum- 
inator in the reign of Charles VI. 

It is obvious that with such data Eliphas 
Levi could not have any very important revela- 
tions to make us. He was moreover embar- 
rassed by the ungrateful and impossible task 
which he had set himself in endeavoring to rec- 
oncile occultism with Catholic dogma. But 
his scholarship in his own province is remark- 
able; and he often displays amazing intuition, 
in which he seems to have come within sight of 
more than one discovery claimed by our meta- 
psychists, notably in anything relating to me- 
diums, the odic fluid, the manifestations of the 
astral body, etc. Further, when he deals with 

The Modern Occultists 

a subject which is not purely chimerical and 
is connected with profound realities morality, 
for example, or even politics and when he 
does not, as so many occultists do, wrap him- 
self up in wearisome implications which seem 
afraid of saying too much, though in reality 
they betray only the fear of having nothing 
at all to say, he sometimes contrives to write 
admirable passages, which, after the exagger- 
ated repute which they used to enjoy, do not 
deserve the unjust oblivion to which they are 
apparently condemned to-day. 


Of the school of Eliphas Levi, and following 
almost the same track, we may reckon two con- 
siderable writers; Stanislas de Guaita and Dr. 
Encausse, better known by the name of Papus. 
Theirs is a rather special case. Two eminent 
scholars, they have a profound knowledge of 
cabalistic and Greco-Egyptian literature, and all 
the Hermetism of the middle ages. They are 
likewise familiar with the works of the Orien- 
talists, the Egyptologists, and the theosophists 
and the purely scientific investigations of our 
occultists. They know also that the texts upon 
which they rely are apocryphal and of the 
most doubtful character; and although they 
know this, and from time to time proclaim it, 
yet they start from these texts as a basis; they 

The Great Secret 

hold fast to them; they confine themselves to 
them, building their theories upon them, as 
though they were dealing with authentic and 
unassailable documents. Thus de Guaita 
builds up the most important part of his work 
on the "Emerald Table," an apocryphal work 
of the apocryphal Trismegistus, having first de- 
clared: "We shall not quarrel over the authen- 
ticity, authorship, or date of one of the most 
authoritative initiatory documents that have 
been handed down to us from Greco-Egyptian 

"Some persist in seeing in it merely the non- 
sensical work of some Alexandrian dreamer, 
while others claim that it is an apocryphal pro- 
duction of the fifth century. Some insist 
that it is four thousand years older. 

"But what does that matter? One thing is 
certain; that this page sums up the traditions of 
ancient Egypt." * 

It is not by any means certain, seeing that 
the authentic monuments of the Egypt of the 
Pharaohs offer us absolutely nothing to con- 
firm this mysterious summary, and the writer's 
"What does that matter?" is rather startling, 
referring as it does to the text which he has 
made the keystone of his doctrine. 

Papus, for his part, devotes a whole volume 
of commentary to the "Tarot," in which he sees 

1 Stanislas de Guaita, La Clef de la Magie Noire; p. 119. 

The Modern Occultists 

the most ancient monument of esoteric wisdom, 
although he knows better than anybody that 
no authentic traces of it are to be found before 
the fourteenth century. 

In calling attention to this fantastic fault at 
the base of their work and it naturally has 
many ramifications, I have no intention of 
questioning the integrity, the evident good 
faith of this extremely interesting work, which 
is full of original views, of ingenious intuitions, 
hypotheses, interpretations, and comparisons, 
of careful research and interesting discoveries. 
Both writers know many things which have 
been forgotten or neglected but which it is 
well sometimes to recall, and if Papus too of- 
ten works hastily and carelessly, de Guaita is 
always mindful, almost to excess, of his care- 
ful, dignified, polished, and rather formal 


The position of the new theosophists is to 
some extent analogous with that of the three 
occultists of whom I have just been speaking. 
We know that the Theosophical Society was 
founded in 1875 by Madame Blavatzky. I 
need not here pass judgment on this enigmat- 
ical woman from the ethical point of view. It 
is undoubtedly the fact that the report of Dr. 

The Great Secret 

Hodgson, who was sent out to India in 1884 
by the Society for Psychical Research especially 
to conduct an inquiry into her case, reveals her 
in a somewhat unfavorable light. Neverthe- 
less, after considering the documentary evi- 
dence, I must admit that it is after all quite 
possible that the highly respectable Dr. Hodg- 
son may himself have been the victim of trick- 
ery more diabolical than that which he be- 
lieved himself to have unmasked. I know 
that extensive plagiarism has been im- 
puted to Madame Blavatzky and other 
theosophists ; in particular it is claimed that 
Sinners "Esoteric Buddhism" and "The 
Secret Doctrine" are the work of one Palma, 
whose manuscripts are supposed to have been 
bought by the founders of the Theosophical 
Society, that they contain unacknowledged pas- 
sages, barely disguised, from works which had 
appeared twenty years earlier over the signa- 
ture of various European occultists, and nota- 
bly that of Louis Lucas. 

I shall not linger over these questions, for 
they seem to me far less important than that 
of the secret and prehistoric documents and eso- 
teric commentaries upon which the whole theo- 
sophical revelation is founded. Whoever the 
author or authors may be, I shall consider their 
work as it is presented. "Isis Unveiled," "The 
Secret Doctrine," and the rest of Madame Bla- 

The Modern Occultists 

vatzky's very numerous works form a stupen- 
dous and ill-balanced monument, or rather a 
sort of colossal builder's yard, into which the 
highest wisdom, the widest and most excep- 
tional scholarship, the most dubious odds and 
ends of science, legend and history, the most 
impressive and most unfounded hypotheses, the 
most precise and most improbable statements 
of fact, the most plausible and most chimerical 
ideas, the noblest dreams, and the most inco- 
herent fancies are poured pell-mell by inex- 
haustible truck-loads. There is in this accu- 
mulation of materials a considerable amount of 
waste and fantastic assertions which one re- 
jects a priori; but it must be admitted, if we in- 
tend to be impartial, that we also find there 
speculations which must rank with the most 
impressive ever conceived. Their basis is evi- 
dently Vedic, or rather Brahman and Vedan- 
tic, and is to be found in texts that have noth- 
ing occult about them. But upon the texts of 
the official Indianists the Theosophists have 
superimposed others, which they claim are 
purer and much more ancient, and which were 
provided and expounded by Hindu adepts, the 
direct inheritors of the immemorial and secret 
wisdom. It is certainly a fact that their writ- 
ings, without revealing anything new as regards 
the essential points of that great confession of 
ignorance which bounds the horizon of the 

The Great Secret 

ancient religions, none the less provide us with 
a host of explanations, commentaries, theories, 
and details which would be extremely interesting 
if only they had been subjected, before they 
were offered to us, to a historical and philolog- 
ical criticism as strict as that to which those 
Indianists who do not profess to be initiates 
have subjected their documents. Unfortu- 
nately this is not the case. Let us take, for 
example, the "Book of Dzyan"; that is, the 
mysterious slocas or stanzas which form the 
basis of the whole secret doctrine taught by 
Madame Blavatsky. It is represented as be- 
ing "an archaic manuscript, a collection of split 
palm-leaves, rendered, by some unknown pro- 
cess, invulnerable to water, air, or fire, and 
written in a lost language, in Sinzar, earlier 
than Sanskrit, and understood only by a few 
Hindu adepts" and that is all. Not a word 
to tell us where this manuscript comes from; 
how it has been miraculously preserved; what 
Sinzar is; to which of the hundred languages, 
which of the five or six hundred Hindu dialects, 
it is related; how it is written; how it can still 
be understood and translated; what is approxi- 
mately the period from which it dates, etc. No 
attention has been paid to these details. It is 
always so. One must believe a bare statement, 
without investigation. These methods are ob- 
viously deplorable, for if the texts in question 

The Modern Occultists 

had been sifted by an adequate process of criti- 
cism they would be among the most interesting 
in Asiatic literature. Such as they are offered 
to us, the Cosmogony and the anthropogenesis 
of the "Book of Dzyan" appear to be the spec- 
ulations of Brahmans and might form part of 
the "Upanishads." An ingenious commentary 
accompanies them, the work of adepts abso- 
lutely familiar with the progress of Western 
knowledge. If they are really authentic pre- 
historic documents, their statements as to the 
evolution of the worlds and of man, partly con- 
firmed as they are by our latest discoveries and 
scientific theories, are truly sensational. If 
they are not what they profess to be, their as- 
sertions are mere hypotheses, still impressive 
and sometimes plausible, but usually incredible 
and needlessly complicated, and, in any case, 
arbitrary and chimerical. 


This does not alter the fact that "The Se- 
cret Doctrine" is a sort of stupendous encyclo- 
pedia of esoteric knowledge, above all as re- 
gards its appendices, its commentaries, its par- 
erga, in which we shall find a host of ingenious 
and interesting comparisons between the teach- 
ings and the manifestations of occultism 
throughout the centuries and in different coun- 
tries. Sometimes there flashes from it an un- 

The Great Secret 

expected light whose far-spreading rays illumi- 
nate regions of thought which are rarely fre- 
quented to-day. In any case, the work would 
prove once again, if proof were needed, and 
with unexampled lucidity, the common origin 
of the conceptions which were formed by the 
human race, long before history as we know it, 
of the great mysteries which encompassed it. 
We also find in it some excellent and compre- 
hensive tabulations in which occult knowledge 
is confronted by modern science and often 
seems, as we must admit, to outstrip or excel 
the latter. Many other things, too, we find in 
it, thrown together at random, but by no means 
deserving the contempt with which we have for 
some time professed to regard them. 

However, it is not for me to write the his- 
tory of theosophy, or to judge it. I have 
simply noted it in passing, since it is the penulti- 
mate form of occultism. It will suffice to add 
that the defects of its original method have 
been emphasized and aggravated by Madame 
Blavatzky's successors. With Mrs. Annie Be- 
sant a remarkable woman in other respects 
and with Leadbeater, everything is in the air; 
they build only in the clouds, and their gratui- 
tous assertions, incapable of proof, seem to 
rain down thicker and thicker on every page. 
Moreover, they seem to be leading theosophy 

The Modern Occultists 

into the paths along which their early converts 
hesitate to follow them. 

These defects are especially aggravated and 
revealed in all their ingenuousness by certain 
writers of the second ranks, less skilful than 
their masters in concealing them; for example, 
in the work of Scott-Elliot, the historian of 
"Atlantis" and "The Lost Lemuria." Scott- 
Elliot begins his history of Atlantis in the most 
rational and scientific manner. He refers to 
historical texts which scarcely permit us to 
doubt that a vast island, one of whose extremi- 
ties lay not far from the Pillars of Hercules, 
sank into the ocean and was lost forever, carry- 
ing with it the wonderful civilization of which 
it was the home. He corroborates these texts 
by carefully chosen proofs derived from sub- 
marine orography, geology, chorography, the 
persistence of the Sargasso Sea, etc. Then 
suddenly, almost without warning, referring to 
occult documents, to charts drawn on baked 
clay and miraculously recovered, to revelations 
of unknown origin, and to astral negatives 
which he claims were obtained in despite of 
time and space, and discusses as though they 
were on the same footing as historical and geo- 
graphical evidence, he describes for us, in all 
particulars, as though he were living in their 
midst, the cities, temples, and palaces of the 

The Great Secret 

Atlanteans and the whole of their political, 
moral, religious, and scientific civilization, in- 
cluding in his book a series of detailed maps of 
fabulous continents Hyperborean, Lemurian, 
etc. which disappeared 800,000 or 200,000 
or 60,000 years ago, and are here outlined 
with as much minuteness and assurance as 
though the draftsman were dealing with the 
contemporary geography of Brittany or Nor- 


The head of an independent or dissident 
branch of theosophy, a scholar, a philosopher, 
and a most interesting visionary, of whom I 
have already spoken Rudolph Steiner, em- 
ploys almost the same methods; but he does 
at least attempt to explain them and justify 

Unlike the orthodox theosophists, he is by 
no means content with revealing, discussing, 
and interpreting the secret and sacred books of 
the Oriental tradition ; he is able to find in him- 
self all the truths contained in these books. 
"It is in the soul," he declares, "that the mean- 
ing of the universe is revealed." The secret 
of all things is within us, since everything is 
within us, and it is as much in us as it was in 
Christ. "The Logos, in unceasing evolution, 
in millions of human personalities, was diverted 

The Modern Occultists 

to and concentered by the Christian conception 
in the unique personality of Jesus. The di- 
vine energy dispersed throughout the world 
was gathered together in a single individual. 
According to this conception Jesus is the only 
man to become God. He takes upon himself 
the deification of all humanity. We seek in 
Him what we had previously sought in our own 
souls." 1 

This search, too long interrupted by the sym- 
bol of Christ, must be resumed. This idea, 
quite defensible if we regard it as the search 
for the "transcendental ego," of which the sub- 
consciousness of our metapsychists is merely 
the most accessible portion, becomes much more 
debatable in the developments which our au- 
thor attributes to it. He professes to reveal 
to us the means of awakening, infallibly and 
almost mechanically, the God that slumbers 
within us. According to him, "the difference 
between the Oriental initiation and the Occi- 
dental lies in this, that the first is effected in 
the sleeping state and the second in the waking 
state. Consequently the separation of the 
etheric body from the physical body, always 
dangerous, is avoided." To obtain a state of 
trance which enables the initiate to communi- 
cate with higher worlds, or with all the worlds 

1 Rudolph Steiner. Le Mystere Chretien et les Mysteres 
Antiques, Trans. Edouard Schure; p. 228. 

The Great Secret 

dispersed through space and time, and even 
with the divinity, he must, by means of spiritual 
exercises, methodically cultivate and develop 
certain organs of the astral body by which we 
see and hear, in men and in things, entities that 
never appear on the physical plane. The prin- 
ciples of these exercises, at least as regards 
their spiritual portions, are evidently borrowed 
from the immemorial practices of the Hindu 
Yoga, and in particular from the "Sutra of 
Patanjali." Thus Steiner tells us that the as- 
tral organ which is supposed to lie in the neigh- 
borhood of the larynx enables us to see the 
thoughts of other men and to throw a search- 
ing glance into the true laws of natural pheno- 
mena. Similarly an organ supposed to lie near 
the heart is said to be the instrument which 
serves to inform us of the mental states of 
others. Whosoever has developed this will be 
enabled to verify the existence of certain deep- 
seated energies in plants and animals. In the 
same way the sense supposed to have its seat 
in the pit of the stomach is said to perceive the 
faculties and talents of men and also to detect 
the part which animals, vegetables, stones, 
metals, and atmospheric phenomena play in the 
economy of nature. All this he explains mi- 
nutely at great length, with all that relates to 
the development, training, and organization of 
the etheric body, and the vision of the Higher 

The Modern Occultists 

Self, in a volume entitled "Initiation, or the 
Knowledge of the Higher World." 1 

When we read this dissertation on the state 
of trance, which is, by the way, a remarkable 
work from more than one point of view, we are 
tempted to ask whether the author has suc- 
ceeded in avoiding the danger against which he 
warns his disciples: whether he has not found 
himself "in a world created in every detail by 
his own imagination." Moreover, I do not 
know whether experiment confirms his asser- 
tions. It is possible to test them. His meth- 
ods are simple enough, and, unlike those of 
the Yoga, perfectly inoffensive. But the spirit- 
ual training must take place under the direc- 
tion of a master, who is not always easy to find. 
In any case, it is permissible to conceive of a 
sort of "secondary state," possessing advan- 
tages over that of the hypnotic subject or the 
somnambulist or the medium, which would be 
productive of visions or intuitions very different 
from those afforded us by our senses or our 
intelligence in their normal state. As for 
knowing whether these visions or intuitions cor- 
respond with realities on another plane or in 
other worlds, this is a question which can be 
dealt with only by those who have experienced 
them. Most of the great mystics have had 

1 Rudolph Steiner, L 'Initiation, Trans. Jules Sauerwein; 
pp. 188 et seq. 


The Great Secret 

visions or intuitions of this kind spontaneously; 
but they do not possess any real interest unless 
it can be proved that they are experienced by 
mystics who are truly and absolutely illiterate. 
Such, it is maintained, were Jacob Boehme, the 
cobbler theosophist of Goerlitz, and Ruys- 
broeck I'Admirable, the old Flemish monk who 
lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 
If their revelations really contain no uncon- 
scious reminiscences of what they have read, 
we find in them so many analogies with the 
teaching, which later become esoteric, of the 
great primitive religions, that we should be 
compelled to believe that at the very roots 
of humanity, or at its topmost height, this 
teaching exists, identical, latent, and unchange- 
able, corresponding with some objective and 
universal truth. We find, notably, in Ruys- 
broeck's "Ornament of the Spiritual Es- 
pousals," in his "Book of the Supreme Truth," 
and his "Book of the Kingdom of Lovers," 
whole pages which, if we suppress the Christian 
phraseology, might have been written by an an- 
chorite of the early Brahmanic period or a 
Neoplatonist of Alexandria. On the other 
hand, the fundamental idea of Boehme's work 
is the Neoplatonic conception of an unconscious 
divinity, or a divine "nothingness," which grad- 
ually becomes conscious by objectifying itself 
and realizing its latent virtualities. But 


The Modern Occultists 

Boehme, as we have seen, was by no means an 
illiterate. As for Ruysbroeck, although his 
work is written in the Flemish patois which is 
still spoken by the peasantry of Brabant and 
Flanders, we must not forget that before he 
became a hermit in the forest of Soignes he 
had been a vicar in Brussels and had lived in 
the mystical atmosphere created, in the thir- 
teenth and fourteenth centuries, by Albert the 
Great, especially by his contemporaries, Johann 
Eckhart, whose mystical pantheism is analogous 
with that of the Alexandrian philosophers, and 
Jean Tauler, who, according to Surius, the 
translator and biographer of Ruysbroeck, 
visited the latter in his solitude at Groenendael. 
Now, Jean Tauler likewise spoke of the union 
of the soul with the divine and the creation 
of God within the soul. It will therefore be 
evident that it is more than a little risky to 
assert that his visions were perfectly sponta- 


As for Steiner, in his case the question does 
not arise. Before he found or thought to find 
in himself the esoteric truths which he revealed, 
he was perfectly familiar with all the literature 
of mysticism, so that his visions were provided 
merely by the ebb and flow of his conscious 
or subconscious memory. After all, he scarcely 

The Great Secret 

differs from the orthodox theosophists, except 
upon one point, which may appear more or less 
essential; instead of making, not Buddha, but 
Buddhas that is, a succession of revealers or 
intermediaries the centers of spiritual evolu- 
tion, he attributes the leading part in this evo- 
lution to Christ, synthesizing in Him all the 
divinity distributed among men, thus making 
Him the supreme symbol of humanity seeking 
the God Who slumbers in its soul. This is 
a defensible opinion if we regard it, as he ap- 
pears to do, from the allegorical standpoint, 
but it would be very difficult to maintain it 
from the historical point of view. 

Steiner applied his intuitive methods, which 
amount to a species of transcendental psychom- 
etry, to reconstituting the history of Atlantis 
and revealing to us what is happening in the 
sun, the moon, and the other planets. He de- 
scribes the successive transformations of the 
entities which will become men, and he does 
so with such assurance that we ask ourselves, 
having followed him with interest through pre- 
liminaries which denote an extremely well- 
balanced, logical, and comprehensive mind, 
whether he has suddenly gone mad, or if we are 
dealing with a hoaxer or with a genuine clair- 
voyant. Doubtfully we remind ourselves that 
the subconsciousness, which has already sur- 
prised us so often, may perhaps have in store 

The Modern Occultists 

for us yet further surprises which may be as 
fantastic as those of the Austrian theosophist; 
and, having learned prudence from experience, 
we refrain from condemning him without ap- 

When all is taken into account we realize 
once more, as we lay his works aside, what we 
realized after reading most of the other mys- 
tics; that what he calls u the great drama of the 
knowledge which the ancients used to perform 
and to live in their temples," of which the life, 
death, and resurrection of Christ, as of Osiris 
and Krishna, is only a symbolic interpretation, 
should rather be called the great drama of 
essential and invincible ignorance. 




WE come now to the occultists of to-day, 
who are no longer hierophants, adepts, 
initiates, or seers, but mere investigators ap- 
plying to the study of abnormal phenomena 
the methods of experimental science. These 
phenomena may be noted on every hand by 
any one who displays a little vigilance. Are 
they exclusively due to the unknown powers 
of the subconsciousness, or to invisible entities 
which are not, are not yet, or are no longer 
human? Herein resides the great interest, 
one might say the whole interest, of the prob- 
lem; but the solution is still uncertain, although 
the tendency to look for it in another world 
than ours is becoming more marked; and the 
conversion to spiritualism of scientists pure and 
simple, such as Sir Oliver Lodge or, more 
recently, Professor W. J. Crawford, is not with- 
out significance in this respect. 

I shall not return in these pages to the spirit 
messages, the phantasms of the living and the 

The Metapsychists 

dead, the phenomena of premonition, or the 
psychometric and mediumistic manifestations of 
which I gave a brief survey in "Death" and 
"The Unknown Guest." What I said in these 
volumes will give the reader a summary and 
provisional for in this domain all is provi- 
sional yet a sufficient idea of the present state 
of metapsychical knowledge in this connection. 
There are, however, other factors, which 
did not then fall within the scope of my work, 
but with which I must deal to-day: first, be- 
cause having surveyed, quickly but as completely 
as is possible in a necessarily brief monograph, 
the occultism of the past, it is only fair to 
treat the occultism of the present day in a sim- 
ilar fashion; but also and especially because 
the points which I then passed over throw a 
somewhat unexpected light on a number of 
other factors, and justify us, if not in forming 
conclusions, at least in drawing certain infer- 
ences which will complete this survey. 

Our modern occultists no longer seek, as 
did their more presumptuous predecessors, to 
question the unknowable directly, to go back 
to the origin of the Cause without a cause, to 
explain the inexplicable transition from the 
infinite to the finite, from the unknowable to 
the known, from spirit to matter, from good 

The Great Secret 

to evil, from the absolute to the relative, from 
the eternal to the ephemeral, from the invisible 
to the visible, from immobility to movement, 
and from the virtual to the actual; and to find 
in all these incomprehensible things a theogony, 
a cosmogony, a religion, and a morality a little 
less hopeless than the obscurity whence man 
has striven to draw them. 

Having learned wisdom from innumerable 
disappointments, they have resigned them- 
selves to a more modest function. In the 
heart of a science which by the very nature of 
its investigation has almost inevitably become 
materialistic, they have patiently conquered a 
little island on which they give asylum to phe- 
nomena which the laws, or rather the habits of 
matter, as we believe ourselves to know them, 
are not sufficient to explain. They have thus 
gradually succeeded, if not in proving, yet in 
preparing us to accept the proof, that there is 
in man, whom we may regard as a sort of sum- 
mary of the universe, a spiritual power other 
than that which proceeds from his organs or 
his material and conscious mind; which does 
not entirely depend on the existence of his 
body. We must admit that the island thus 
won by our occultists, who are now assuming 
the name of metapsychists, is as yet in consid- 
erable disorder. One sees upon it all the con- 

The Metapsychists 

fusion of a recent and provisional settlement. 
Thither day by day the conquerors bear their 
discoveries, great or small, unloading them and 
heaping them pell-mell upon the beach. There 
the doubtful will be found beside the indisput- 
able, the excellent by the worthless, while the 
beginning is confounded with the end. It 
would seem to be time to deduce, from this 
abundance and confusion of materials, a few 
general laws which would introduce a little or- 
der into their midst; but it is doubtful whether 
this could be attempted at the present moment, 
for the inventory is not yet complete, and one 
feels that an unexpected discovery may call 
the whole position in question and upset the 
most carefully constructed theories. 

In the meanwhile one might try to begin at 
the beginning. Since the phenomena recorded 
tend to prove that the spiritual power which 
emanates from man does not entirely depend 
on his brain and his bodily life, it would be 
logical to show, in the first place, that thought 
may exist without a brain, and did, as a matter 
of fact, exist before there was such an organ 
as the brain. If one could do this, then sur- 
vival after death and all the phenomena attrib- 
uted to the subconsciousness would become al- 
most natural and, at all events, far more cap- 
able of explanation. 


The Great Secret 


The great objection which the materialists 
have always brought against the spiritualists, 
and which they still advance, though to-day 
with less assurance than of old, may be 
summed up in these words: "No thought with- 
out a brain." The mind or soul is a secre- 
tion of the cerebral tissues; when the brain dies 
thought ceases, and nothing is left. 

To this formidable objection, to these state- 
ments, apparently irrefutable, since our daily 
experience of the dead is continually confirming 
them, the occultists have not hitherto been able 
to oppose any really serious argument. 

They were, at bottom, far more defenseless 
than they, dared to admit. But for some years 
now the investigations of our metapsychists, 
from which we have not as yet deduced all the 
consequences, have provided us, if not with 
unanswerable arguments, which it may be we 
shall never find, at least with the raw material 
which will enable us to hold our own against 
the materialists; no longer amid the clouds of 
religion or metaphysics, but on their own terri- 
tory, whose sole ruler is the goddess the 
highly respectable goddess of the experimen- 
tal method. Thus above the centuries we 
once more assemble the affirmations and decla- 
rations bequeathed to us by our prehistoric an- 

The Metapsychists 

cestors as a secret treasure, or one too long 
buried in oblivion. 

We should be thankful enough to avoid 
these rather useless discussions between the 
spiritualists and the materialists, but the latter 
compel us to return to them by blindly main- 
taining that matter is everything; that it is the 
source of everything; that everything begins 
and ends in matter and through matter, and 
that nothing else exists. It would be more rea- 
sonable to admit once for all that matter and 
spirit are fundamentally merely two different 
states of a single substance, or rather of the 
same eternal energy. This is what the primi- 
tive religion of India has always affirmed, more 
definitely than any other cult, adding that the 
spirit was the primordial state of this substance 
or energy, and that matter is merely the re- 
sult of a manifestation, a condensation, or a 
degradation of spirit. The whole of its cos- 
mogony, theosophy, and morality proceed from 
this fundamental principle, whose consequences, 
even though in appearance they amount to no 
more than a verbal dispute, are in actual fact 

Thus, to begin with, we must know whether 
spirit preceded matter, or whether the reverse 
was the case; whether matter is a state of 
spirit, or whether, on the contrary, spirit is 
a state of matter. In the present condition of 

The Great Secret 

science, disregarding the teaching of the great 
religions, is it possible to answer this question? 
Our materialists assert that life is the indis- 
pensable condition without which it is impossi- 
ble for thought to rise and take shape in the 
mind. They are right; but what, in their eyes, 
is life, if not a manifestation of matter, which 
already is no longer matter as we understand 
it, and which we have a perfect right to call 
spirit, soul, or even God, if we so desire? If 
they maintain that matter is powerless to pro- 
duce life unless a germ coming from without 
calls it into existence, they ipso facto enter our 
camp, since they acknowledge that something 
more than matter is needed to produce life. 
If, on the other hand, they claim that life is 
an emanation from matter, they are confessing 
that it was previously contained in matter, and 
again they find themselves in our ranks. For 
the rest, they have recently been compelled to 
admit see, among others, the experiments of 
Dr. Gustave le Bon that no such thing exists 
as inert matter, and that a pebble, a lump of 
lava, sterilized by the fiercest of infernal fires, 
is endowed with an intramolecular activity 
which is absolutely fantastic, expending, in its 
internal vortices, an energy which would be 
capable of hauling whole railway trains round 
and round the globe. Now what is this ac- 
tivity, this energy, if not an undeniable form 

The Metapsychists 

of the universal life? And here again we are 
in agreement. But we are not in agreement 
when they claim, without reason, or rather 
against all reason, that matter existed before 
this energy. We may admit that it has existed 
simultaneously, from the beginning of the 
world; but mere logic and observation of the 
facts compel us to admit that when matter sets 
itself in motion, when it proceeds to evolve, 
not internally, as in a pebble, but externally, 
as in a crystal, a plant, or an animal, it is 
precisely the energy, the motive-power that 
was contained in it, that has now determined 
this movement or this development. This 
same logic, this same observation of the facts, 
forces us yet again to acknowledge that when 
matter is transformed or organized it is not 
the matter that begins the process, but the 
life contained in it. Now in this case, as in 
the disputes that are settled in the courts of 
law, it is extremely important to know which 
side began. If it was matter that began but 
let us ask, in passing, how it could begin, how 
it could possibly take the initiative, without 
ceasing to be matter defined by the material- 
ists; that is, a thing that is in itself necessarily 
lifeless and motionless but if, after all, to 
admit the impossible, it was matter that be- 
gan, it is probable enough our spiritual part 
will perish, or rather will be extinguished with 

The Great Secret 

matter, and will revert, contained in matter, to 
that elemental intramolecular activity which 
marked its beginning and will mark its end. 
If, on the other hand, it was spirit that be- 
gan, it is no less probable that, having been 
able to transform and organize matter, it is 
more powerful than matter, and of a different 
nature; and that having been able to make use 
of matter, to profit by it in the process of evo- 
lution, improving and uplifting itself and the 
evolution, which, upon this earth of ours, began 
with minerals and ends in man, is assuredly a 
spiritual evolution, it is, I repeat, no less prob- 
able that spirit, having shown itself able to 
make use of matter and being its master, will 
refuse to allow matter, when it seems on the 
point of disintegration, to involve it in its mate- 
rial dissolution; that spirit will refuse to ac- 
cept extinction, when matter becomes extinct; 
nor will it lapse into that obscure intramolec- 
ular activity whence it drew matter in the be- 


In any case, the question for us has a pecu- 
liar interest as to whether thought preceded 
the brain, or whether thought is possible with- 
out a brain this question is determined by 
the facts. Before the appearance of man and 
the more intelligent of the animals, nature was 


The Metapsychists 

already far more intelligent than we 'are and 
had already brought into the world of plants, 
fish, lizards, and reptilian birds, and above 
all into the world of insects, most of those 
marvelous inventions which even to-day fill 
us with an ecstasy of wonder. Where in those 
days was the mind of nature? Probably in 
matter, and above all outside matter; every- 
where and nowhere, just as it is to-day. It 
is useless to object that all this was done grad- 
ually, with infinite slowness, by means of in- 
cessant groping; that goes without saying, but 
time has nothing to do with the matter. It 
is therefore obvious, unless you believe that the 
effect may precede the cause, that there was 
somewhere, no one knows where, an intelli- 
gence which was already at work, although 
without organs that could be seen or localized; 
thus proving that the organs which we believe 
to be indispensable to the existence of an idea 
are merely the products of a preexisting i-dea, 
the results of a previous and a spiritual cause. 


In the meantime it is quite possible that since 
.the formation of the human mind nature 
thinks better than of old. It is quite possible, 
as certain biologists have claimed, that nature 
profits by our mental acquisitions, which are 
poured into the common fund of the universal 

The Great Secret 

mind. For my part I see no objection to this, 
for it does not in the least mean that nature 
depends for her conceptions on the human 
mind. She had them all long before we 
existed. When man invents, say, the printing- 
press or the typewriter to facilitate the diffu- 
sion of his ideas, this does not prove that he 
needed either invention in order to think. 

It seems, indeed, that nature, at least on our 
little planet, has grown wiser and no longer 
permits the stupendous blunders of which she 
used to be guilty, in creating thousands 
of anomalous monsters incapable of survival. 
None the less it is true that she did not await 
our advent before proceeding to think, before 
imagining a far greater profusion of things 
than we shall ever imagine. We have not 
ceased, nor shall we soon cease, to help ourselves 
with overflowing hands from the stupendous 
treasury of intelligence accumulated by her be- 
fore our coming. Earnest Kapp, in his Philos- 
ophie de la Technique, has brilliantly demon- 
strated that all our inventions, all our machin- 
ery, are merely organic projections, that is, un- 
conscious imitations, of models provided by 
nature. Our pumps are derived from the ani- 
mal heart; our cranks and connecting-rods are 
reproductions of our joints and limbs; our cam- 
eras are an adaptation of the human eye; our 
telegraphic systems, of our nervous system; in 

The Metapsychists 

the X-rays we have that organic property of 
somnambulistic clairvoyance which is able to 
see through opaque substances ; which can read, 
for example, the contents of a letter that has 
been sealed and enclosed in a threefold metal 
box. In wireless telegraphy we are following 
the hints afforded by telepathy, that is, the di- 
rect communication of an idea by means of 
psychic waves analogous to the Hertzian 
waves; and in the phenomena of levitation and 
the moving of objects without contact we have 
yet another indication which we have not hith- 
erto been able to turn to account. It puts us 
upon the track of methods which will perhaps 
one day enable us to overcome the terrible 
laws of gravitation which chain us to the earth, 
for it seems as though these laws, instead of 
being, as was supposed, forever incomprehen- 
sible and impenetrable, are principally mag- 
netic; that is to say, tractable and utilizable. 


And I am speaking here only of the re- 
stricted world of man. What if we were to 
enumerate all nature's inventions in the insect 
world, where she seems to have lavished, long 
before our arrival on the earth, a genius more 
varied and more abundant than that which she 
has expended upon us? Apart from the con- 
ception of political and social organizations, 

The Great Secret 

which some day we may perhaps imitate, we 
find in the world of insects mechanical miracles 
which are beyond our attainments and secret 
forces of which we have as yet no conception. 
Consider the Languedocian scorpion: whence 
does she draw that mysterious aliment which, 
despite her incessant activity, enables her to 
live for nine months without any sort of nour- 
ishment? Where, again, do the young of the 
Lycosa of the Clotho spider obtain their 
food, They, too, possess a similar capacity. 
And by virtue of what alchemy does the egg of 
a beetle, the Minotaurus typhoeus, increase its 
volume tenfold, although nothing can reach it 
from the outside world? Fabre, the great 
entomologist, without a suspicion that he was 
repeating a fundamental theory of Paracelsus 
for science, despite itself, draws daily closer 
to magic, had a shrewd suspicion "that they 
borrow part of their activity from the energies 
encompassing them heat, electricity, light, or 
other various modes of a single agent," which 
is precisely the universal or astral agent, the 
cosmic, etheric, or vital fluid, the Akahsa of 
the occultists, or the od of our modern theo- 


It may be said, in passing, that mindless na- 
ture has once more plainly shown our minds 

The Metapsychists 

the path to follow should they seek to rid us 
of the burdensome and repugnant dependence 
upon food, which allows us barely a few hours' 
leisure between the three or four meals that we 
are obliged to consume daily. It may be that 
the time is less remote than we suppose when 
we shall cease to be greedy stomachs and in- 
satiable bellies; when we in our turn shall have 
solved the magnificent secret of these insects; 
when we, like them, shall succeed in absorbing 
vitality from the universal and invisible fluid 
by which not they alone but we ourselves are 
surrounded and permeated. 

Here is a field that to our human science 
is unexplored and unbounded. Here, above all 
from the point of view of our spiritual life, is 
a transformation which would singularly facili- 
tate our understanding of our future exist- 
ence ; for when we no longer have to make the 
three or four meals which now, according to 
temperament, encumber or brighten the hours 
between sunrise and sunset, we shall perhaps 
begin to understand that our thoughts and feel- 
ings will not necessarily be unhappy, unoccupied, 
distracted, and a prey to eternal tedium when 
our day no longer contains the landmarks or 
objectives now furnished by breakfast, lunch, 
tea, and dinner. It would be an excellent ini- 
tiation into the diet which will be ours beyond 
the tomb and in eternity. 

The Great Secret 

Returning once more to the problem of 
thought without a brain, which is the key- 
stone of the whole building: let us suppose that 
after a cataclysm, such as the earth must as- 
suredly have experienced already, and such as 
may at any moment be repeated, every living 
brain, and even the most elementary, the most 
gelatinous attempt at a nervous or cerebral 
organization, from that of the amoeba to that 
of man, were suddenly destroyed. Do you be- 
lieve that the earth would remain bare, unin- 
habited, inert, and forever lifeless, if the con- 
ditions of life were once more to become pre- 
cisely what they had been before the catastro- 
phe? Such a supposition is scarcely permissi- 
ble. On the contrary, it is all but certain that 
life, finding itself surrounded by the same fa- 
vorable circumstances, would begin all over 
again in almost the same fashion. Mind would 
once more gradually come into being; ideas 
and emotions would reappear, would make 
themselves new organs, thereby giving us irre- 
fragable proof that thought was not dead, that 
it cannot die, that somewhere it finds a refuge 
and continues to exist, intangible and imper- 
ishable, above the absolute destruction of its 
instnuments or its media ; that it is, in a word, 
independent of matter. 


The Metapsychists 


Let us now examine this preexistence of the 
mind or spirit in ourselves. Had we already 
a brain when, at the moment of our concep- 
tion, we were still no more than the sperm- 
cell which only the microscope renders visible 
to the eyes? Yet we were already potentially 
all that we are to-day. Not only were we our- 
selves, with our character, our innate ideas, our 
virtues and vices, and all that our brain, which 
as yet had no existence, would develop a great 
deal later; already we held within us all that 
our ancestors had been; we bore within us 
all that they had acquired during a tale of 
centuries whose number no one knows; their 
experience, their wisdom, their habits, their 
defects and qualities, and the consequences of 
their imperfections and their merits; all this 
was packed, struggling and fructifying, into 
one invisible speck. And we likewise bore 
within us (which seems to be much more ex- 
traordinary, although it is equally indisputa- 
ble) the whole of our descendants; the whole 
unbroken sequence of our children and our chil- 
dren's children, in whom we shall live again 
through the infinity of the ages, though already 
we hold within us all their aptitudes, all their 
destinies, all their future. When matter ac- 
cumulates so many things in a scrap of filament 

The Great Secret 

so fine that it all but escapes the microscope, 
is it not subtle to the point of bearing a strange 
resemblance to a spiritual principle? 

We shall disregard for the moment the ac- 
tion of our descendants upon ourselves, our 
characters, and our tendencies; an influence 
which is probable enough, since they do incon- 
testably exist within us, but which it would 
take us too long to investigate: and let us for 
a moment lay stress upon the fact that our 
ancestors, who to us seemed dead, are continu- 
ing in a very real sense to live on in us. I shall 
not linger over this point, since I wish to con- 
sider more recent arguments. I shall therefore 
content myself with calling your attention to it; 
for the phenomena of heredity are now recog- 
nized and classified. It is an indubitable fact 
that each of us is merely a sort of sum total 
of his forebears, reproducing more or less 
exactly the personality of one or several of 
them, who are obviously continuing to think 
and act in him. They think with our brains, 
you will say. That may be true. They employ 
the organs at their disposal; but it is evident 
that they still exist; that they live and think, al- 
though they have no brain of their own; and 
this for the moment is all that we need estab- 


The Metapsychists 

We have just seen, though our survey was 
all too brief and too summary, that it is pos- 
sible for thought to exist without a brain; that 
it seems anterior to matter and actually exists 
independent of matter. For the moment I 
shall note only one of the objections put for- 
ward by the materialists. "If thought is in- 
dependent of matter," they say, "how is it that 
it ceases to function, or functions only in an 
incomplete manner, when the brain is injured?" 
This objection, which, by the way, does not en- 
visage the source of thought, but only the state 
of its conductor or condenser, loses some part 
of its value if we oppose to it a sufficient number 
of observations which prove precisely the con- 
trary. I could, if we had the leisure, place 
before you a list of cases, vouched for by medi- 
cal observers, in which thought continued to 
function normally though the whole brain al- 
most was reduced to pulp or was merely a puru- 
lent abscess. I refer those whom this ques- 
tion interests to the works of the specialists; in 
particular they will find in Dr. Geley's authori- 
tative volume; De I'Inconscient au Conscient, 1 
some examples which will convince them. 

Fundamentally the objection advanced by the 
materalists is a sophism, whicji has been ad- 

1 P. 8 et seq. 


The Great Secret 

mirably refuted by Dr. Carl du Prel. To say 
that every injury to the brain affects the mind, 
that all thought ceases when the brain is de- 
stroyed, and that the mind is consequently a 
product of the brain, is to argue precisely as 
who should say that any injury to a telegraphic 
apparatus garbles the message; that if the wire 
is cut the message no longer exists; therefore 
the apparatus produces the message, and no 
scientist can possibly imagine that there is an 
operator behind the apparatus. 


We shall now consider the statements which 
the scientists have been collecting during the 
last few years, collating, over a dividing space 
of hundreds and thousands of years, the affir- 
mations of the ancient religions and those of 
the occultists. These throw a new light on the 
problem. They corroborate, in short, by ex- 
periment, the esoteric doctrines in respect of 
the astral or etheric body or the Unknown 
Guest, if you prefer it; in respect of its ex- 
traordinary and incomprehensible faculties, its 
probable survival, and its independence of our 
physical body. 

We all knew that a very considerable portion 
of our life, of our personality, lay buried in 
the darkness of the unconscious or the sub- 
conscious. In this darkness we housed the whole 

The Metapsychists 

of our organic life: that of the stomach, the 
heart, the lungs, the kidneys, and even the 
brain; and there they did their work, in an ob- 
scurity never pierced by a ray of conscious- 
ness save by chance; in illness, for example. 
There, too, we lodged our instincts, the lowest 
and the highest alike; with all that was mysteri- 
ous, innate and irresistible in our knowledge, 
our aspirations, our tastes, our capacities, our 
temperaments, and many other things which we 
have no time to examine. 

But for some years now the scientific investi- 
gation of hypnotism and mediumship has enor- 
mously enlarged and illuminated this extraor- 
dinary and magical domain of the unconscious. 

We have come, step by step, to establish 
the fact, in an objective, material and indubita- 
ble fashion, that our little conscious cerebral 
life is as nothing compared with the vast ultra- 
cerebral and secret life which we live simulta- 
neously; for this unknown life contains the past 
and the future, and even in the present can 
project itself to enormous distances from our 
physical body. In particular we have ascer- 
tained that the restricted, unreliable, and un- 
stable memory which we thought unique is 
duplicated in the darkness by another memory 
which is unrestricted, indefatigable, inexhaus- 
tible, incorruptible, unshakable, and infallible, 
recording somewhere, perhaps in the brain, but 

in any case not in the brain as we know it and 
as it controls our consciousness for it seems 
to be independent of the condition of this 
brain, recording indelibly the most trivial 
events, the slightest emotions, the most fugi- 
tive thoughts of our lives. Thus, to cite only 
one example from among a thousand, a ser- 
vant who was absolutely illiterate was able, in 
the hypnotic state, to repeat without a mis- 
take whole pages of Sanskrit, having some 
years earlier heard her first employer, who was 
an Orientalist, reading passages from the "Ve- 

It has thus been proved that every chapter 
of every one of the thousands of books that 
we have read remains indelibly photographed 
on the tablets of our memory and may, at a 
given moment, reappear before our eyes with- 
out the loss of a period or a comma. Thus 
again Colonel de Rochas, in his experiments on 
the retrogression of the memory and the per- 
sonality, made his subjects go back over the 
whole course of their lives, down to their very 
early childhood, whose least details were re- 
suscitated with an extraordinary distinctness 
and perspective ; details which, when they were 
verified, were acknowledged to be absolutely 
correct. He did even better than this: he suc- 
ceeded in arousing the memory of their pre- 
vious lives. But here, verification being more 

The Metapsychists 

difficult, his experiments are hardly to the point; 
and I wish to lead you only on to the firm 
ground of established and undisputed facts. 


Well, then, here is an enormous part of our- 
selves which escapes us; of whose life we know 
nothing; of which we make no use; which lives 
and records and acts outside our conscious 
minds; an ideal memory, which is, practically 
speaking, of no use to us; by the side of which 
the memory that obeys us is no more than a 
restricted summit, a sort of pinnacle, inces- 
santly abraded by time, emerging from the 
ocean of oblivion, beneath which spreads away, 
downward and outward, a huge mountain of 
unchangeable memories, by which the brain is 
unable to profit. Now on what do we base our 
personality, the nature of our ego, the identity 
which above all things we fear to lose by 
death? Entirely on our conscious memory, 
for we know no other; and this memory, com- 
pared with the other, is, as we have seen, pre- 
carious and insignificant. Is it not time to 
ask ourselves where our ego really exists, where 
our true personality resides? Is it in the re- 
stricted, uncertain, precarious memory or in 
the spacious, infallible, and unshakable one? 
Which self should we choose after death? 
That which consists only of hesitating reminis- 

The Great Secret 

cences, or the other, which represents the 
whole man, with no solution of continuity; 
which has not let slip a single action or spec- 
tacle or sensation of our lifetime, and retains, 
living within it, the self of all those who have 
died before us? While there is reason to fear 
that the first memory, that of which our brain 
makes use, is impaired or extinguished at the 
moment of death, just as it is impaired or di- 
minished by the least ill-health during life, is it 
not, on the other hand, more probable that the 
other more capacious memory, which no shock, 
no sickness can confuse, will resist the terrific 
shock of death; and is there not a very good 
chance that we shall find it intact beyond the 

If this is not so, why this stupendous work 
of registration, this incredible accumulation of 
unused photographs for in ordinary life we 
never even wipe the dust from them when 
the few landmarks of our cerebral memory are 
enough to maintain the essential outlines of our 
identity? It is admitted that nature has made 
nothing useless; we must therefore suppose 
that these pictures will be of use later on, that 
elsewhere they will be necessary; and where 
can this elsewhere be, save in another life? 

The inevitable objection will be made that 
it is the brain alone which registers the images 
and phrases of this memory, just as it registers 

The Metapsychists 

the images and phrases of the other memory, 
and that when the brain is dead, etc. There 
may be some force in this objection; but would 
it not be more than a little strange were the 
brain unaided to perform, with a care which 
would completely absorb it, all these opera- 
tions, which do not concern it, which it disre- 
gards a moment later, and of which it does 
not seem to have any clear conception? In any 
case this is not the brain as we commonly un- 
derstand it, and -here already we have a very 
important admission. 


But this hidden memory, this cryptomnesia, 
as the specialists have called it, is only one of 
the aspects of cryptopsychics, or the hidden psy- 
chology of the unconscious. I have no time to 
recapitulate here all that the scholar, the scien- 
tist, the artist, and the mathematician owe to 
the collaboration of the subconscious. We 
have all profited more or less by this mysterious 

This subconscious self, this unfamiliar per- 
sonality, which I have elsewhere called the 
Unknown Guest, which lives and acts on its 
own initiative, apart from the conscious life 
of the brain, represents not only our entire 
past life, which its memory crystallizes as part 
of an integral whole; it also has a presenti- 

The Great Secret 

ment of our future, which it often discerns 
and reveals; for truthful predictions on the 
part of certain specially endowed "sensitives" 
or somnambulistic subjects, in respect of per- 
sonal details, are so plentiful that it is hardly 
possible any longer to deny the existence of this 
prophetic faculty. In time accordingly the sub- 
conscious self enormously overflows our small 
conscious ego, which dwells on the narrow 
table-land of the present; in space likewise it 
overflows it in a no less astonishing degree. 
Crossing the oceans and the mountains, cov- 
ering hundreds of miles in a second, it warns 
us of the death or the misfortune which has 
befallen or is threatening a friend or rela- 
tive at the other side of the world. 

As to this point, there is no longer the slight- 
est doubt; and, owing to the verification of 
thousands of such instances, we need no longer 
make the reservations which have just been 
made in respect of predictions of the future. 

This unknown and probably colossal guest 
though we need not measure him to-day, having 
only to verify his existence is, for the rest, 
much less a new personality than a personality 
which has been forgotten since the recru- 
descence of our positive sciences. Our various 
religions know more of it than we do; and it 
matters little whether they call it soul, spirit, 
etheric body, astral body, or divine spark; for 

The Metapsychists 

this guest of ours is always the same transcen- 
dental entity which includes our brain and our 
conscious ego; which probably existed before 
this conscious ego, and is quite as likely to sur- 
vive it as to precede it; and without which it 
would be impossible to explain three fourths 
of the essential phenomena of our lives. 


Passing over for the moment some of the 
other properties of this singular personality, 
which we believed to be forever relegated to 
invisibility, together with materialization, ideo- 
plasty, levitation, lucidity, bilocation, psychom- 
etry, etc., it remains for me to explain in what 
a curious and unexpected fashion a somewhat 
recent science has succeeded in recording, in- 
vestigating, and analyzing some of these physi- 
cal manifestations, and to inquire how far these 
observations increase the probabilities of the 
survival or the immortality of the identical 
personality, which after all may very well be 
the essential and imperishable portion of our 

I have just explained how far the investiga- 
tion of hypnotism and mediumship has en- 
larged the field of the subconscious. Hitherto, 
in accordance with the school to which the 
investigator belonged, the phenomena estab- 
lished have been attributed either to sugges- 

The Great Secret 

tion, or to a fluid of unknown nature, examina-i 
tion having as yet been confined to recording 
their amazing results. Matters were in this 
position, and the disputes between the "sugges- 
tionists" and the "mesmerists" were threatening 
to become permanent, when about fifty years 
ago to be exact, in 1886 and 1867 an Aus- 
trian scientist, Baron von Reichenbach, pub- 
lished his first papers on "odic emanations." 
Dr. Karl von Prel, a German scientist, com- 
pleted Reichenbach's work, and, being gifted 
with a scientific mind of the first order, and 
intuitive powers which often amounted to gen- 
ius, he was able to deduce all its consequences. 
These two writers have not yet had full jus- 
tice done to them, and their works have not yet 
obtained the reputation which they deserve. 
We need not be surprised by this; for the pro- 
gress of official science, the only science that 
permeates the public, is always a much more 
leisurely affair than that of independent science. 
It was more than a century before Volta's elec- 
tricity became our modern electricity and the 
ruler of the industrial world. More than a 
century, too, had passed since the experiments 
of Mesmer before hypnotism was finally ac- 
knowledged by the medical academies, inves- 
tigated at the universities, and classed as a 
branch of therapeutics. It may be as long be- 
fore Reichenbach's experiments, improved by 

The Metapsychists 

von Prel and completed by De Rochas, begin 
to bear fruit. In the meantime their investi- 
gations throw an abundant light on a whole se- 
ries of obscure and confused phenomena whose 
objective existence they have been the first to 
prove, while indicating their source. 

Reichenbach really rediscovered the univer- 
sal vital fluid, which is none other than the 
Akahsa of the prehistoric religions, the Telesma 
of Hermes, the living fire of Zoroaster, the 
generative fire of Heraclitus, the astral light 
of the cabala, the Alkahest of Paracelsus, the 
vital spirit of the occultists, and the vital force 
of St. Thomas. He called it u od," from a 
Sankrit word whose meaning is "that which 
penetrates everywhere," and he saw in it quite 
correctly the extreme limit of our analysis of 
man, the point where the line of demarcation 
between soul and body disappears, so that it 
seems that the secret quintessence of man must 
be u odic." 

I cannot, of course, describe in these pages 
the innumerable experiments of Reichenbach, 
von Prel, and de Rochas. It is enough to say 
that in principle the od is the magnetic or vital 
fluid which at every moment of our existence 
emanates from every part of our being in unin- 
terrupted vibrations. In the normal state these 
emanations or effluvia, whose existence was sus- 
pected, thanks to the phenomena of hypnotism, 

The Great Secret 

are absolutely unknown to us and invisible. 
Reichenbach was the first to discover that "sen- 
sitives" that is to say, subjects in a state of 
hypnosis could see these effluvia quite dis- 
tinctly in the darkness. As the result of a very 
great number of experiments, from which every 
possibility of conscious or unconscious sugges- 
tion was carefully eliminated, he was able to 
prove that the strength and volume of these 
emanations varied in accordance with the emo- 
tions, the state of mind, or the health of those 
who produced them; that those proceeding from 
the right side of the body are always bluish in 
color, while those from the left side are of 
a reddish yellow. He also states that similar 
emanations proceed not only from human be- 
ings, animals, and plants, but even from miner- 
als. He succeeded in photographing the od 
emanating from rock crystal; the od given off 
by human beings ; the od resulting from chemi- 
cal operations; the od from amorphous lumps 
of metal, and that produced by noise or fric- 
tion; in a word, he proved that magnetism, or 
od, exists throughout nature a doctrine which 
has always been taught by the occultists of 
all countries and all ages. 1 

1 Some recent experiments by Mr. W. J. Kilner, described 
in his book, "The Human Atmosphere," give positive proof 
of the existence of these emanations, these effluvia, this 
human "aura," or at least of a similar aura which con- 
stitutes a true astral or etheric double. It is enough to look 
at the subject through a screen formed of a very flat glass 

The Metapsychists 

Here then we have the existence of this 
universal emanation experimentally demonstra- 
ted. Now let us inquire into its properties and 

I shall confine myself to a few essential 
facts. Thanks to these emanations it has been 
possible to prove that this fluid is the same as 
that which produces the manifestations of table- 
turning; in the eyes of a sensitive, indeed, these 
manifestations are accompanied by luminous 
phenomena whose synchronism leaves no doubt 
that the emission of the fluid is correlated with 
the movements of the table. The latter does 
not move until the radiations proceeding from 
the hands of those experimenting have become 
sufficiently powerful. These radiations con- 
dense into luminous columns over the center 
of the table, and the more intense they be- 
come the more lively is the table. When they 
fade away the table falls back motionless. 

It is the same with the displacement of ob- 

dish containing an alcoholic solution of dicyanin, a coal- 
tar derivative which makes the retina sensitive to the ultra- 
violet rays; and the aura becomes visible not only to sen- 
sitives, as in Reichenbach's experiments, but also in the 
eyes of 95 per cent, of persons possessed of normal vision. 
It is, however, possible that this aura is not an etheric 
double, but a mere nervous radiation. In this connection, 
see the excellent summary by Monsieur Rene Sudre in No 3 
of the Bulletin de I'Institut Metapsychique International 
(January-February, 1921). 


The Great Secret 

jects without contact, levitation, and so forth: 
manifestations which to-day are so far estab- 
lished and verified that there is no need to re- 
peat their occurrence. It is therefore an es- 
tablished fact that this fluid, which is able to set 
in motion a pendulum in a glass vase hermeti- 
cally sealed with the blow-pipe, just as it is 
capable of lifting a table weighing more than 
two hundred pounds, possesses a power which 
at times is enormous and is independent of our 
muscles. This power may be attributed to our 
nerves, our minds, or what not, but is no less 
plainly and purely spiritual in its nature. 

Moreover it is almost certain, although the 
experimental proofs are in this case less com- 
plete and more difficult, on account of the scar- 
city of subjects, that it is the same odic or odylic 
force that intervenes in the phenomena of ma- 
terialization; notably in those produced by the 
celebrated Eusapia Paladino and by Madame 
Bisson, which latter are far more conclusive and 
far more strictly controlled by the medium. It 
probably draws, either from the medium or 
from the spectator, the plastic substance with 
whose help it fashions and organizes the tan- 
gible bodies which are called into existence and 
disappear in the course of these manifestations, 
thereby giving us a very curious glimpse of the 
manner in which thought, spirit, or the creative 
fluid acts upon matter, concentrating and shap- 

The Metapsychists 

ing it, and how it sets about the business of 
creating our own bodies. 


It has further been experimentally demon- 
strated that this odic or odylic fluid may be con- 
veyed from place to place. Any material ob- 
ject may be filled with it. The object magne- 
tized, into which the hypnotist has poured some 
porion of his vital energy, all possibility of 
suggestion being set aside, will always retain 
the same influence over the sensitive or medium; 
that is, the influence desired by the hypnotist. 
It will make the medium laugh or weep, shiver 
or perspire, dance or slumber, according to the 
purpose of the hypnotist when he emitted the 
vital fluid. Moreover, the fluid appears to be in- 
destructible. A marble pestle, magnetized and 
placed successively in hydrochloric, nitric, and 
sulphuric acids and subjected to the corrosive 
action of ammonia, loses nothing of its power. 
An iron bar heated to a white heat, resin melted 
and solidified in a different shape, water that 
has been boiled, paper burned and reduced to 
ashes, all retain their power. Further to 
prove that the detection of this force is not 
dependent on human impressions it has been 
shown that water which has been magnetized 
and then boiled causes the needle of a rheostat 
an instrument for measuring electric cur- 

The Great Secret 

rents to deviate through an angle of twenty 
degrees, just as it did before it was boiled. It 
would be interesting to know whether this vital 
force, thus imprisoned in a material object, can 
survive the hypnotist. I do not know whether 
any experiments have been made in respect of 
this detail. In any case, it has been observed 
that more than six months after they were 
charged with od, the most miscellaneous sub- 
stances iron, tin, resin, wax, sulphur, and 
marble retained their magnetic powers intact. 


Not only does the odic fluid thus transferred 
contain and reproduce the will of the hypnotist; 
it also contains and represents part of the per- 
sonality of the hypnotic subject and in particu- 
lar his sensitiveness to impressions. Colonel de 
Rochas has conducted, in connection with this 
phenomenon, which he calls "the externaliza- 
tion of sensibility," a host of experiments, be- 
wildering yet unassailable and conclusive, which 
lead us straight back to the magical practices of 
the wizards of antiquity and the sorcerers of 
the middle ages, which shows us once more that 
the most fantastic beliefs or superstitions, pro- 
vided they are sufficiently general, almost 
always contain a hidden or forgotten truth. 

I need not refer the reader of these pages 
to experiments which are familiar to all those 

The Metapsychists 

who have ever glanced through a volume deal- 
ing with metapsychics. I must keep within cer- 
tain bounds; and what I have said is enough 
to establish the fact that there is within us a 
vital principle which is not indissolubly bound 
up with the body, but is able to leave it, to 
externalize itself, or at least in part, and for a 
brief period, during our lifetime. It may be 
rendered visible; it possesses a power independ- 
ent of our muscles; it is able to condense mat- 
ter, to shape it, to organize it, to make it live, 
not merely in appearance, like phantoms of the 
imagination, but like actual tangible bodies, 
whose substance evaporates and returns to us in 
the most inexplicable fashion. We have also 
seen that this vital principle may be trans- 
ferred to a given object, and there, despite all 
physical and chemical treatment of the object, 
it will maintain, indestructibly, the will of the 
hypnotist and the sensibility of the hypnotized 
subject. May we not at this point ask our- 
selves whether, being to this extent separable 
from and independent of the body whether be- 
ing so far indestructible, as, for example, in the 
ashes of a burned document, which contained 
only a very small portion of it whether this- 
vital fluid does not survive the destruction of 
the body? In reply to this question we have, 
quite apart from logic, the extremely impressive 
evidence of those learned societies which have 

The Great Secret 

devoted themselves to the investigation of 
strictly authenticated cases of survival; and, in 
particular, the 500 to 600 apparitions of the 
dead verified by the Society for Psychical Re- 
search. It must be admitted that these appari- 
tions, which are probably odic manifestations 
from beyond the grave, seem far more credible 
when we are acquainted with certain properties 
of the mysterious fluid which we have been 


Since the death of the leaders of the "odic" 
school Reicfaenbach, von Prel, and de Rochas, 
the investigation of the magnetic or odic 
fluid has been somewhat neglected; mistakenly, 
to our thinking, for it was by no means exhaust- 
ive; but there are fashions in metapsychics as 
in everything else. The Society for Psychical 
Research, in particular, during the last few 
years, has devoted itself almost exclusively to 
the problems of "cross correspondences"; and 
while its inquiry has not yielded absolutely unas- 
sailable results, it does at least permit us to be- 
lieve more and more seriously in the presence 
all about us of spiritual entities, invisible and 
intelligent; disembodied or other spirits, who 
amuse themselves the word is employed ad- 
visedly by proving to us that they make noth- 
ing of space or time and are pursuing some 
purpose which we cannot as yet understand. I 

The Metapsychists 

know, of course, that we can, strictly speaking, 
attribute these unexpected communications to 
the unknown faculties of the subconsciousness ; 
but this hypothesis becomes daily more precari- 
ous, and it may be that the time is not far 
distant when we shall be finally compelled to ad- 
mit the existence of these disembodied entities, 
"doubles," wandering spirits, "elementals," 
"Dzyan-Choans," devas, cosmic spirits, which 
the occultists of old never doubted. 

In this connection, to say nothing for the pre- 
sent of Sir Oliver Lodge's Raymond, or of the 
highly interesting spiritualistic experiments of 
P. E. Cornillier, or of a host of other experi- 
ments the consideration of which would take us 
too far afield, the recent researches of Dr. 
W. Crawford, which have made a sensation in 
the world of metapsychics, have afforded a 
remarkable confirmation of the theory of the 
"invisibles." It is true, however, as we shall 
see, that this confirmation proceeds less from 
the facts themselves than from the interpreta- 
tion which has been placed upon them. 


W. J. Crawford, a doctor of science and a 
professor in Belfast University, has of late un- 
dertaken a series of experiments in connection 
with "telekinesia," or movements without con- 
tact; experiments which were conducted with a 

The Great Secret 

degree of scientific precision that wholly ex- 
cluded any idea of fraud, and which absolutely 
confirm those which Crookes, the Institut Psy- 
chologique, and Ochorovicz carried out with 
Home, Eusapia Paladino, and Mademoiselle 
Tomscyk as mediums. 

The subject of these experiments was that 
most peculiar phenomenon which is a sort of 
physical externalization; of the duplication, 
amorphous at first, and afterward more or less 
plastic, of the medium. From the medium's 
body proceeds an indefinable substance, which 
is sometimes visible, as in the case of Eva, 
Madame Bisson's medium, and sometimes in- 
visible, as in the case of Crawford's medium, 
but which, even though invisible, may be 
touched and measured, and behaves as though 
it possessed an objective reality. 

This substance, moist, cold and, sometimes 
viscous, which is known as "ectoplasm" can 
be weighed, and its weight exactly corresponds 
with the weight lost by the medium; and it 
may attain as much as 50 per cent, of the 
medium's normal weight. 

In these experiments this invisible substance 
behaves as though it emerged from the me- 
dium's body in the form of a more or less rigid 
stem, which lifts a table placed at a certain 
distance from the chair in which the medium is 
seated. If the table is too heavy to be lifted 

The Metapsychists 

directly at arm's length, so to speak, the psy- 
chic stem or lever curves itself, chooses a ful- 
crum on the floor, and erects itself to lift the 
weight. When this invisible lever has its ful- 
crum in the medium's body the weight of the 
latter is increased by that of the object lifted: 
but when it selects a fulcrum on the floor the 
medium's weight is diminished by the pres- 
sure exerted on the floor. 

These phenomena of levitation were per- 
fectly well known before Dr. Crawford's in- 
vestigation; but by his discovery of the invisi- 
ble lever, sometimes perceptible to the touch 
and even capable of being photographed, he is 
the first to reveal the entire material and psychi- 
cal mechanism. Moreover in the course of 
his innumerable experiments he noted that 
everything happened as though invisible enti- 
ties were watching the experiments, assisting 
and even directing him. He communicated with 
them by means of typtology, and having re- 
marked that these mysterious operators did 
not seem fully to understand the scientific in- 
terest of the phenomena, he questioned them, 
and concluded from their replies that they 
were only laborers of some sort, manipulating 
forces which they did not understand, and ac- 
complishing a task required of them by a 
higher order of beings who could not or did 
not condescend to do the work themselves. 

The Great Secret 

It may of course be maintained that these in- 
visible collaborators emanate from the subcon- 
sciousness of the medium or of other persons 
present, so that the problem is still unsolved. 
But a conviction which a scientist who was, to 
begin with, as skeptical as Dr. Crawford, was 
gradually, and by the very force of things, led 
to accept, deserves to be seriously considered. 
In any case his experiments, like those in con- 
nection with the odic fluid, prove once more 
that our being is far more immaterial, more 
psychic, more mysterious, more powerful, and 
assuredly more enduring than we believe it to 
be; and this was taught us by the primitive re- 
ligions, as it is taught by the occultists who 
have been inspired thereby. 


While we do not lose sight of the other 
spiritualistic manifestations the posthumous 
apparitions, the phenomena of psychometry 
and materialization, the provision of the fu- 
ture, the mystery of speaking animals, the mir- 
acles of Lourdes and other places of pilgrim- 
age, which we mention here only to show that 
we have not overlooked them, here, as com- 
pared with the prodigious and arrogant affirma- 
tions of the past, are the half-certainties, the 
petty details slowly reconquered by the occult- 
ists of to-day. At first sight this is little 

The Metapsychists 

enough, and even if the great central problem 
of our metapsychics, the problem of survival, 
were at length solved, this long and eagerly 
anticipated solution would not take us very far; 
assuredly not nearly so far as the priests of In- 
dia and Egypt went. But modest though they 
may be, the discoveries of our occultists have 
at least the advantage of being founded upon 
facts which we can verify, and should therefore 
be of far greater value to us than the more im- 
pressive hypotheses which have hitherto evaded 


Now it is quite possible that to penetrate 
any further into the regions which they are ex- 
ploring, the experimental methods which are 
the safest in other sciences may prove insuffi- 
cient. Other elements must be considered 
than those which science is accustomed to en- 
counter. Forces may perhaps be in question 
of a more spiritual nature than those of our 
intellect, and in order to grasp and control them 
it may first be necessary to apply ourselves to 
our own spiritualization. It is an advantage 
to possess perfectly organized laboratories, but 
the true laboratory whence the ultimate dis- 
coveries will proceed is probably within us. 
This the priests and Magi of the great reli- 
gions seem to have understood better than we, 

The Great Secret 

for when they purposed to enter the ultra- 
spiritual domains of nature they underwent a 
protracted preparation. They felt that it was 
not enough that they should be learned, but 
that they must before all become saints. They 
began by the training of their will, by the sacri- 
fice of their whole being, by dying to all desire. 
They enfolded their intellectual energies in a 
moral force which led them far more directly 
to the plane on which the strange phenomena 
which they were investigating had their being. 
It is probable enough that there are in the in- 
visible, or the infinite, things that the under- 
standing cannot grasp, on which it has no hold, 
but to which another faculty can attain; and 
this faculty is perhaps what is known as the 
soul, or that higher subconsciousness which the 
ancient religions had learned to cultivate by 
spiritual exercises, and above all by a renuncia- 
tion and a spiritual concentration of which we 
have forgotten the rules and even the idea. 




WE have already, in the course of this in- 
quiry, become familiar with most of 
the conclusions to be drawn therefrom, and it 
will therefore suffice to recall the most impor- 
tant in a brief recapitulation. 

At the very beginning of the old religions, 
and especially at the beginning of that which 
seems to be the most ancient of all and the 
source of all the rest, there is no secret doctrine 
and no revelation; there is only the prehistoric 
tradition of a metaphysics which we should to- 
day call purely rationalistic. The confession 
of absolute ignorance as regards the nature, 
attributes, character, purposes, and existence 
even of the First Cause or the God of Gods 
is public and explicit. It is a vast negation; 
we know nothing, we can know nothing, we 
never shall know anything, for it may be that 
God Himself does not know everything. 

This unknown First Cause is of necessity in- 
finite, for the infinite alone is unknowable, and 

The Great Secret 

the God of Gods would no longer be the God of 
Gods, and could not understand Himself, unless 
He were all things. His infinity inevitably gives 
rise to pantheism; for if the First Cause is 
everything, everything partakes in the First 
Cause, and it is not possible to imagine any- 
thing that can set bounds to it and is not the 
Cause itself, or part of the Cause, or does not 
proceed from the Cause. From this panthe- 
ism proceeds in its turn the belief in immortal- 
ity and the ultimate optimism, for, the Cause 
being infinite in space and time, nothing that is 
of it or in it can be destroyed without destroy- 
ing a part of the Cause itself; which is impos- 
sible, since it would still be the nothingness that 
sought to circumscribe it, just as nothing could 
be eternally unhappy without condemning part 
of itself to eternal unhappiness. 

Absolute agnosticism, with its consequences; 
the infinity of the divine, pantheism, universal 
immortality, and ultimate optimism here is 
the point of departure of the great primitive 
teachers, pure intellects, and implacable logi- 
cians, such as were the mysterious Atlanteans, 
if we may believe the traditions of the occult- 
ists ; and would not the very same point of de- 
parture impose itself to-day upon those who 
should seek to found a new religion which 
would not be repugnant to the ever-increasing 
exactions of human reason? 


But if all is God and necessarily immortal, it 
is none the less certain that men and things 
and worlds disappear. From this moment we 
bid good-by to the logical consequences of the 
great confession of ignorance to enter the laby- 
rinth of theories which are no longer unassail- 
able, and which, for that matter, are not at 
the outset put before us as revelations but as 
mere metaphysical hypotheses, as speculations 
of great antiquity, born of the necessity of rec- 
onciling the facts with the too abstract and 
too rigid deductions of human reason. 

As a matter of fact, according to these hy- 
potheses man, the world and the universe do 
not perish; they disappear and reappear alter- 
nately throughout eternity, in virtue of Maya, 
the illusion of ignorance. When they no lon- 
ger exist for us or for any one, they still exist 
virtually, where no one sees them; and those 
who have ceased to see them do not cease to 
exist as though they saw them. Similarly, 
when God sets bounds to Himself, in order to 
manifest Himself and to become conscious of 
a portion of Himself, He does not cease to be 
infinite and unknowable to Himself. He 
seems for a moment to place Himself at the 
point of view or within the comprehension of 
those whom He has quickened in His bosom. 

The Great Secret 

This last hypothesis must in the beginning 
have been, as it is at present and always will 
be, a mere makeshift; but there was a time 
when it became a sort of dogma which, eagerly 
welcomed by the imagination, soon completely 
replaced the great primitive negation. From 
that moment, despairing of knowing the un- 
knowable, man duplicated and subdivided and 
multiplied it, relegating the inconceivable First 
Cause to the inaccessible Infinite, and hence- 
forth concerned himself only with those sec- 
ondary causes by which it manifests itself and 

He does not ask himself, or rather he does 
not dare to ask, how, the First Cause being 
essentially unknowable, its manifestations could 
be considered as known, although it had not 
ceased to be unknowable; and we enter the 
vast vicious circle in which mankind must re- 
sign itself to live under penalty of condemning 
itself to an eternal negation, an eternal immo- 
bility and ignorance and silence. 

Unable to know God in Himself, man con- 
tents himself with seeking and questioning Him 
in His creatures, and above all in mankind. 
He thought to find Him there, and the reli- 
gions were born, with their gods, their cults, 
their sacrifices, their beliefs, their moralities, 
their hells and heavens. The relationship 
which binds them all to the unknown Cause is 


more and more forgotten, reappearing only at 
certain moments, as it reappeared, for exam- 
ple, long afterwards, in Buddhism, in the meta- 
physicians, in the ancient mysteries and occult 
traditions. But despite this oblivion, and 
thanks to the idea of this First Cause, neces- 
sarily one, invisible, intangible, and inconceiv- 
able, which we are consequently compelled to 
regard as purely spiritual; two of the great 
principles of the primitive religion, which sub- 
sequently permeated those religions which 
sprang from it, have survived, deep-rooted and 
tenacious of life, secretly repeating, beneath all 
outward appearances, that the essence of all 
things is one and that the spirit is the source 
of all, the only certitude, the sole eternal re- 


From these two principles, which at bottom 
are only one, proceeds all that primitive ethic 
which became the great ethic of humanity: un- 
ity being the ideal and sovereign good, evil 
means separation, division, and multiplicity, 
and matter is finally but one result of separa- 
tion or multiplicity. To return to unity, there- 
fore, we must strip ourselves, must escape from 
matter, which is but an inferior form or deg- 
radation of the spirit. 

It was thus that man found, or believed that 

The Great Secret 

he had found, the purpose of the unknowable, 
and the key of all morality without, however, 
venturing to ask himself why this rupture of 
unity and this degradation of the spirit had 
been necessary; as though we had supposed 
that the First Cause, which might have kept 
all things in the state of unity, in its undivided, 
immobile, and supremely blessed bosom, had 
been condemned, by a superior and irresistible 
law, to movement and eternal recommence- 

These ideas, too purely metaphysical to 
nourish a religion, were soon in India itself 
covered by a prodigious vegetation of myths, 
and gradually became the secret of the Brah- 
mans, who cultivated them, developed them, 
gave them profundity, and complicated them, 
to the verge of insanity. Thence they spread 
over the face of the earth, or returned to the 
place whence they had set forth; for while it 
is permissible to attempt the chronological 
localization of a central source, it is impos- 
sible for us to determine where they rose to 
the surface in the ages before the dawn of 
history, unless we refer to the theosophical 
legends of the Seven Races, which we might 
perhaps accept if we were supplied with docu- 
ments less open to criticism than those which 
have hitherto been offered to us. 



At all events, it is easy enough to follow the 
progress of these ideas through the world 
known to history; whether they went hand in 
hand, or one following another, through India, 
Egypt, and Persia; or found their way into 
Chaldea and pre-Socratic Greece by means of 
myths or contacts or migrations unknown to us; 
or, especially in the case of Hellas, through 
the Orphic poems, collected during the Alex- 
andrian period, but dating from legendary 
ages, and containing lines which, as fimile 
Burnouf observes in his Science des Religions, 
are translated word for word from the Vedic 
hymns. 1 

As a result of the Egyptian bondage, the 
Babylonian captivity, and the conquest of 
Cyrus, they reached the Bible, changing their 
shape to harmonize with the Jewish monothe- 
ism; but in secret they were preserved, almost 
undefiled, by oral transmission, in the cabala, 
in which the En-Sof, as we have seen, is the 
exact reproduction of the Hindu Unknowable, 
and leads to an almost similar agnosticism, 
pantheism, optimism, and ethic. 

These ideas, stifled beneath the Bible in the 
Jewish world, and in the Greco-Roman world 

1 Emile Burnouf, La Science des Religions; p. 105. 

The Great Secret 

beneath the weight of the official religions and 
philosophies, survived among the secret sects, 
and notably among the Essenes, and also in 
the mysteries; reappearing in the light of day 
about the beginning of the Christian era, in 
the Gnostic and Neoplatonic schools of phil- 
osophy, and later on in the cabala, when they 
were finally put into writing; whence they 
passed, more or less distorted, into the occult- 
ism of the middle ages, of which they consti- 
tute the sole foundation. 


We see, accordingly, that occultism, or 
rather the secret doctrine, variable in its forms, 
often extremely obscure, above all during the 
middle ages, but almost everywhere identical 
as to its basis, was always a protest of the 
human reason, faithful to its prehistoric tra- 
ditions, against the arbitrary assertions and 
pretended revelations of the public and official 
religions. To their baseless dogmas, their 
anthropomorphical manifestations of the di- 
vine, illogical, petty, and unacceptable, they 
opposed the confession of an absolute and 
invincible ignorance of all essential points. 
From this confession, which at first sight seems 
to destroy everything, but which leads, almost 
of necessity, to a spiritualistic conception of 
the universe; it was able to derive a meta- 


physics, a mysticism, and a morality much 
purer, loftier, more disinterested, and above 
all more rational than those which were born 
of the religions which were stifling it. One 
might even prove that all that these religions 
still have in common on the heights where all 
are united all that could not be debased to 
the level of the material requirements of an 
over-long life all that is to be found in them 
that is awe-inspiring, infinite, imperishable, and 
universal they owe to that immemorial meta- 
physic into which they struck their first roots. 
It would even seem that in proportion as 
time removes them from this metaphysic the 
spirit leads them back to it; thus, to value only 
the two latest religions, without mention of 
all that they borrowed from it more directly, 
we find that the God the Father of Christian- 
ity and the Allah of Islam are much nearer to 
the En-Sof of the cabala than to the Jahweh 
of the Bible; and that the Word of St. John, 
which is not mentioned in the Old Testament 
or the synoptics, is merely the Logos of the 
Gnostics and the Neoplatonists, who them- 
selves obtained it from India and Egypt. 


Is this, then, the great secret of humanity, 
which has been hidden with such care beneath 
mysterious and sacred formulae, beneath rites 

The Great Secret 

which were sometimes terrifying, beneath 
formidable reticences and silences: an unmiti- 
gated negation, a stupendous void, a hopeless 
ignorance? Yes, it is only this: and it is as 
well that it is nothing else; for a God and a 
universe small enough for the little brain of 
man to circumnavigate them, to understand 
their nature and their economy, to discover 
their origin, their aims and their limits, would 
be so pitiful and so restricted that no one would 
resign himself to remain eternally as their 
prisoner. Humanity has need of the infinite, 
with its corollary of invincible ignorance, if it 
is not to feel itself the dupe or victim of an 
unforgivable experiment or a blunder impos- 
sible of evasion. There was no need to call 
it into existence, but since it has been raised 
out of nothingness it must needs enjoy the 
boundlessness of space and time of which it 
has been vouchsafed the conception. It has 
the right to participate in all that has given it 
life, before it can forgive it for bringing it 
into the world. And it is not able thus to 
participate save on the condition that it can- 
not understand it. Every certainty at all 
events, until our minds are liberated from the 
chains that fetter them would become an 
enclosing wall on which all desire to live would 
be shattered. Let us therefore rejoice that 
we know of no further certainties beyond an 


ignorance as infinite as the world or the God 
Who is its subject. 


After so many efforts, so many experiments, 
we find ourselves precisely at the point from 
which our great teachers set out. They be- 
queathed to us a wisdom which we are hardly 
beginning to clear of the rubbish that the cen- 
turies have left upon it; and beneath this rub- 
bish we find intact the proudest confession of 
ignorance that man has ever ventured to pro- 
nounce. To a lover of illusion this means but 
little; to a lover of truth it is much indeed. 
We know at last that there has never been 
any ultra-human revelation, any direct and 
irrecusable message from divinity, no ineffable 
secret; and that all man believes himself to 
know of God, of His origin and His ends, he 
has drawn from his own powers of reason. 
Before we had interrogated our prehistoric 
ancestors we more than suspected that all rev- 
elations, in the sense of the word understood 
by the religious, were and will always be im- 
possible ; for we cannot reveal to any one more 
than he is capable of understanding, and God 
alone can understand God. But it was easy to 
imagine that having, so to speak, been wit- 
nesses of the birth of the world, they ought to 
know more of it than we do, since they were 

The Great Secret 

still nearer to God. But they were not nearer 
to God; they were simply nearer to the human 
reason, which had not as yet been obscured by 
the inventions of thousands of years. They 
are content with giving us the only landmarks 
which this reason has been able to discover in 
the unknowable: pantheism, spiritualism, im- 
mortality, and final optimism ; confiding the rest 
to the hypotheses of their successors, and 
wisely leaving unanswered, as we should leave 
them to-day, all those insoluble problems which 
the succeeding religions blindly attacked, often 
in an ingenious manner which was none the 
less always arbitrary and sometimes childish. 


Need we again recapitulate these problems? 
the passage from the virtual to the actual; 
from being to becoming; from non-existence 
to existence; and the descent of the spirit into 
matter that is, the origin of evil and the 
ascent from matter to spirit; the necessity of 
emerging from a state of eternal bliss, to re- 
turn thither after purification and ordeals 
whose indispensable nature is beyond our com- 
prehension ; eternal recommencements, to reach 
a goal which has always fled us, since it has 
never been attained, although in the past men 
had as much leisure to attain it as they will 
ever have in the future. 


I might increase beyond all measures this 
balance-sheet of the unknowable. To close 
the account it is enough to add that the ques- 
tion which rightly or wrongly causes us the 
greatest anxiety that which concerns the fate 
of our consciousness and our personality when 
absorbed by the divine, is likewise unanswered, 
for Nirvana determines nothing and specifies 
nothing, and the Buddha, the last interpreter 
of the great esoteric doctrines, himself con- 
fesses that he does not know whether this 
absorption is absorption into nothingness or 
into eternal blessedness. "The Sublime has 
not revealed it to him." 

"The Sublime has not revealed it to him"; 
for nothing has been revealed and nothing has 
been solved, because it is probable that nothing 
will ever be capable of solution, and because it 
is possible that beings whose intellect must be 
a million times more powerful than our own 
would still be unable to discover a solution. 
To understand the Creation, to tell us whence 
it comes and whither it goes, one would have 
to be its author; and even then, asks the "Rig- 
Veda," at the very source of primordial wis- 
dom: "and even then, does He know it?" 

The Great Secret, the only secret, is that 

all things are secret. Let us at least learn, in 

the school of our mysterious ancestors, to make 

allowance, as they did, for the unknowable, 


The Great Secret 

and to search only for what is there: that is, 
the certainty that all things are God, that all 
things exist in Him and should end in happi- 
ness, and that the only divinity which we can 
hope to understand is to be found in the depths 
of our own souls. The Great Secret has not 
changed its aspect; it remains where and what 
it was for our forebears. At the very begin- 
ning they managed to derive from the unknow- 
able the purest morality which we have known, 
and since we now find ourselves at the same 
point of the unknowable, it would be danger- 
ous, not to say impossible, to deduce other 
lessons therefrom. And these doctrines, of 
which the nobler portions have remained the 
same, and which differ only in their baser char- 
acteristics, in all the religions whose various 
dogmas are at bottom only mythological trans- 
lations or interpretations of these too abstract 
truths, would have made man something that 
as yet he is not, had he but had the courage 
to follow them. Do not let us forget them: 
this is the last and the best counsel of the 
mystical testament whose pages we have just 
been turning over. 




Santa Barbara 


Series 9482